Complex Sales Require You to Shape How Your Prospect Sees His Solution

pablogAt its core, selling matches your product or service to your buyer’s needs. When a smart salesperson collaborates with a buyer to help shape the buyer’s vision of a solution, the buyer will be drawn to buy from that salesperson. Sounds simple enough? It’s not. In fact, it is the most difficult aspect of the sales process.

Prospects buy outcomes, results, solutions. And for their own reasons, which is rarely the reason you urge them to buy. So how do you zig when your prospect zags?

Become your own best mentalist. Get inside your prospect’s head. “You can observe a lot just by watching” as the beloved Yogi Berra once said. And ask intelligent questions.

Park Your Vision

After doing their homework on a prospective buyer, most salespeople can see buyer need and connect his product or service to that need. However, in many situations, the prospect doesn’t see or even understand yet the need as the salesperson does. By default then, the salesperson approaches the prospect by projecting his own vision of the buyer’s need for their product or service.

From my experience, this mismatch happens because the buyer is unaware of the “hidden” issue or has never dealt with it before.  For example, the last time the prospect tried to solve an issue, he concluded that the solutions available didn’t resolve his issue; they were either too expensive, too complex or too time consuming to implement. So he stayed with the status quo.

A prospect at this stage is tough to penetrate. He has made up his mind. He doesn’t want to change. He can’t or refuses to see what you see. Many salespeople fail to persevere with prospects at this stage, and lead with a product approach.

The more technically competent the salesperson is, he will observe closely to see the prospect’s problem and, in his excitement, lead the conversation with a confident, “Here is the issue you have and here is our solution.”

Let me share a good example:  Assume you sell retirement planning advice and services. You target a prospect company with 10,000 employees. Through deeper research, you discover an asset pool of $75 million in their 401(k) plan. You dig a little deeper to uncover the company’s fund line-up and correspondent fee arrangements. Now, the salesperson knows the prospect’s situation and knows it can restructure the portfolio and save the company as much as 30 percent in fees. This one seems to be a no brainer.

Armed with this knowledge, the salesperson contacts the Chief Financial Officer and says, “I have reviewed your 401(k) plan and am confident we can not only reduce your cost by 30 percent, we can also design a better line-up of fund managers, as we have for many companies of your size. Can we meet next week?”

Here’s the rub. The CFO says, “But we’re happy with our current provider, and don’t see a problem.”  No current pain. Even though the salesperson clearly sees the need, the prospect doesn’t or the prospect doesn’t want to deal with it now. The salesperson sold too fast! He must slow down if he wants to succeed. Time must be spent probing for the pain and diagnosing its cause. Then, and only then, can you begin to understand the prospect’s vision for a solution – to fix, accomplish or avoid something. Spend time educating the prospect, too.

Prospect Feels Pain but Doesn’t See Solution

The second type of prospect salespeople encounter is when the prospect recognizes a need, feels pain, but doesn’t know how to solve his problem. He’s unhappy with his current situation and is actively looking for a solution. The motivation to solve the throbbing pain is present, certainly the need to fix, accomplish or avoid it is there, with the potential of an organization like yours to solve.

In most cases, at this stage, the needs are undeveloped, which is a very important stage. Important, because without a vision for the solution, the prospect will be forced to trust the salesperson to come in with a solution. At this point, the salesperson, who easily sees the vision for the solution, leads the prospect to his products and services. If this happens before the prospect sees the pain for themselves, the sale will stall. Therefore, the salesperson must get the buyer to admit to the pain first, then help them shape his vision for the solution. The salesperson must have patience. As we have discussed in previous blogs, the salesperson must spend a lot of time in what we call the cognition thinking stage to get a clear understanding of what the prospect is trying to fix, accomplish or avoid. During this phase the vision for the solution must be clear from the prospect’s view before you move on to looking at solutions.

Prospect Holds a Vision of the Solution

At this stage, the prospect recognizes a need or wants to fix, accomplish or avoid something, and can describe need requirements, accepts responsibility for solving the problem, and can “see” the problem acted upon. Many times a salesperson will meet a prospect who says, “We are very interested in getting a proposal from you: we are interested in changing 401(k) providers and we would like to have this completed by the end of the quarter.”

If the salesperson hears these words, chances are the prospect is far along in the decision making process and has already a clear sense of his buying vision. The question is, who helped him with that? Most prospects will still meet with salespeople to validate their vision, however, this situation is an uphill battle as he may already be emotionally aligned with another salesperson.

If you enter the sales process at this stage, it is critical to establish credibility quickly and prove your expertise and demonstrate your experience. Prospects want to buy from salespeople who validate them, who understand their business, who see the world through their eyes, who share their vision, and who bring a new prospective to their vision.

You need to help reengineer the vision at this stage if you are going to prevail. The good news—in a complex sale, there are many decision makers who may see the solution slightly different. This reality is the opportunity to help reshape and get everyone to a more common ground.

Let’s use one last example to recap, using our retirement advisor example earlier:

At stage 1, the company’s needs are explained this way. The salesperson does her homework and notices high expenses with the company’s investment funds, as well as too many managers in the investment line-up. The salesperson sees inefficiency and a problem that her solution can solve. She sees a problem and solution; the prospect does not. To be successful at this stage, the salesperson needs to lead the conversation with what is important to the prospect and get him to see pain before starting to shape his vision for the solution.

At stage 2, the prospect company clearly sees a problem with low-plan participation and wants to fix this problem because it may be required to increase company cost through additional company matches or education. At this stage, the prospect company knows it has a problem but doesn’t know how to deal with it. The salesperson sees a solution. To be successful, the salesperson must get the prospect company to admit to the pain and encourage the clearly state what its vision is for a solution. The salesperson then must take him through the possible alternatives leading him to the company’s solution.

At stage 3, the prospect sees the problem and holds a vision for the solution. At this point, the salesperson needs to connect the prospect’s solution to the prospect’s vision. Because the salesperson is entering the sales process late, he or she must get the prospect to reshape his vision with the salesperson’s experience and expertise and then lead them to connect with their solution.

Above all, it is essential for salespeople to understand at what stage the prospect is in his thinking and in his  buying process. Salespeople must find prospects who want to fix, accomplish or avoid something and mutually develop a vision of a solution that connects the actual solution to that vision.

See you on the upside, Bill

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