Push That Product to the Back of Your Brain
For decades, we’ve been told the shortest path to sales success is to understand your customer’s/client’s needs, then provide your product or service as a perfect-fit solution. Of course, you begin by figuring out your prospect’s pain points.
After doing extensive research on your prospect and finding obvious results that solve the prospect’s issues, you secure a meeting. Here’s the rub. Your prospect doesn’t see the danger you see. Not only does he have no needs, in his mind, he has no problems either. He believes everything is perfect.
This radical disconnect is one of the biggest obstacles salespeople face today. All our training has taught us that everyone has problems and needs; all we need to do is find ‘em and fill ‘em.
Because I’m Happy
A certain percentage of the population is totally happy with status quo, no matter how well you intend to persuade them otherwise. The bad news is that prospects at this stage are extremely difficult to persuade, even intractable. The good news is there are fewer prospects in this stage than you think.
Not So Happy
Gartner cites 70 percent of CIOs plan to change their technology and sourcing relationship in the next two to three years. What a market opportunity.
A stunning 85 percent of affluent investors told consulting firm Oechsli Institute last year that they are so dissatisfied with their current advisor, they are considering a change. According to a Black Book Rankings survey, 17 percent of physician practices plan to ditch their current electronic health record system. In all industries, people are willing to improve their situation, if someone can show and prove to them a better solution exists.
There’s even better news for sales professionals concerned with the legions of unsatisfied prospects. As above, many prospects have issues that they recognize, and believe you can help.
The Great Mass of Unawares
But there’s even an even larger group in the vast prospect community plagued by problems they don’t even know exist. You might call them the unconscious. Successful sales professionals typically know how to uncover these hidden issues, whether by research or skillful questioning. Let’s zero in on how to break through to the unawares.
J.P Gilford in his book, The Nature of Human Intelligence refers to Cognition Thinking, the phase in the buyer’s decision-making process where he or she needs to understand what problems exist and quantify their impact.
During this phase, the prospect may (or may not) admit and agree he has a problem that (possibly) could be addressed with your solution. But it’s just as possible that the prospect will resist, tell you he has no problem, and wouldn’t want to do anything about it right now, anyway . . .those “unawares.”
You have now arrived at the most critical point in your selling process. I call it the inflection point when you clearly know it is in the prospect’s best interest to accept, adapt and act now.
Too Small to Bother
Assume for a moment, you can crack the unawares, what then? When I’m in the field doing workshops, salespeople often tell me that a large percentage of their prospects are at this unaware stage. I personally surveyed a number of prospects, too, and most tell me; “If I don’t know I have a problem I need to fix, then it can’t be that big of a problem compared to everything else I need to worry about!”
No awareness and no sense of urgency. The prospect simply doesn’t want to do anything about it now. Even solid-performing salespeople struggle with this bump in the road.
Prospects don’t fix what they see as small problems. It’s also safe to say that business people, on the whole, hate change; it means disruption, added expenses, lost time and productivity, at least at first. If you are handling a complex sale with multiple decision-makers, elicting change carries a degree of difficulty.
At this stage, most salespeople go into knee-jerk mode; the minute they uncover a need, they plop the first solution on the table. This mistake follows from the old view of pushing products to book quick sales, and is perpetuated by the ease with which most salespeople show and tell rather than ask and listen. Going to your solution at this stage will delay the decision – slow down to succeed.
Please try your best to let this fact sink in. It’ll save you a lot of headache. Not only are prospects locked in to the “do-nothing” phase, they linger there for what feels like forever. I suspect you lose more sales to the status quo than you do to the competition. These no-doers really need to be sold, but it requires following a pre-designed process faithlessly.
Let’s revisit why people linger in do-nothing land.
First, it’s the size of the problem. People don’t fix small problems, especially with new vendors. If it’s small, they fix it internally or with the incumbent.
Second, people fear of change, as we discussed earlier.
Third, people want and need personal wins. Every decision maker must see a personal win in her decision, and no losses to her from the change.
Classic Case Study
Let me tie this together with an example from one of my workshops. One of our participants had an opportunity to sell an insurance product to a prospect company under an employer-sponsored payroll deduction plan. The head of human resources loved his solution, had the budget, and wanted his solution for her own personal use. She also felt the program would enhance the company’s employee benefit programs, too.
The general counsel, who was helping my participant understand all of the decision makers, wanted this solution for personal reasons. He had some insurability issues and couldn’t buy this benefit without this program. And, finally the CFO was interested in the program and thought the economics worked well.
But there was a hidden roadblock our participant/salesman never focused on, the head of payroll, which he learned by accident. Since this plan was to be set up as a payroll deduction plan, it had to be closely coordinated with the company’s payroll system.
The payroll head saw more work, at a time when she was already involved in a major company project. The salesman had to strategize with the general counsel and CFO, who were both helpful. The CFO, to whom she reported, spoke with her and told her how important it was for him personally.
Oops! There it is. She saw a win in helping her boss.
Thoroughly know the prospects’ vision for a solution. Whenever you sit down with a prospect, no matter how well you think you know the situation, make no assumptions on how they think. Treat every sales call as if it were your first call on this prospect. The prospect vision for the solution is the touchstone to your success, and you must identify and re-identify it (accurately) on every call.
In the art and science of complex sales, multiple decision makers struggle with their own reasons for buying or not buying. So when you load up a decision team with one-dimensional product information, it is simply not the solution.
You’ve got to get into their hearts and minds, learn and respect their fears and care-abouts, then find the collective pathway for everyone to contribute to the greater good through their “yes”decision, without any personal loss.
Tough to do? You bet. That’s why you’re paid the big bucks.
See you on the upside, Bill
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