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February 28, 2007
WHETHER YOU ARE BRAND new to sales or a seasoned veteran, the world of business-to-business selling can be a little intimidating. Competition is fierce, and differentiating yourself from all the other companies who sell identical (or nearly identical) products and services is more challenging than ever. Being just as good, but cheaper than the other guy is not a profitable long-term strategy. Setting yourself apart may require a change in the way you think about selling and the way you approach and engage new prospective customers.
I still remember how excited I was when I took my first corporate sales job for a high-tech reseller. I knew that if success in the selling profession was based on hard work, I could make it happen. It didnt even matter to me what I was selling. I believed that if I worked hard enough, surely I could find somebody somewhere who wanted to buy it.
I remember concluding about halfway through my first year that nobody anywhere wanted to buy what I was trying to sell. This experience helped me realize what I consider to be the most important truth of selling: Nobody wants to buy your product or service. What they want are the results they can achieve by using what you sell to pursue their own goals and objectives.
I have come to firmly believe that there is no inherent value to our customers in our product and services solutions. The real value comes in how they use our solutions to achieve their desired business results.
Focusing on customer results. Those of us in sales and marketing sometimes get caught up in our product and services solutions and all the wonderful features and functions that we offer. We may actually start believing that if we just deliver the right message, our customers will find our company and our solutions so irresistible that they will be compelled to buy.
In fact, our customers probably dont care about or even want the solution. What they want are business results. So Id like to propose a somewhat radical idea. Why dont we quit trying to sell them solutions? Lets start selling results!
In order to sell results, you have to understand what your customers business goals and objectives are before you start positioning your solution. I call this the results-based approach to selling and it requires a process that is quite different from the way many salespeople have been taught to sell.
The results-based approach is diagnostic in nature and stands in stark contrast to the ever-popular broadcast manner to selling. Following the broadcast approach, our job is to do whatever is required to get an audience with our prospective customer, and once we get there, we present who we are and what we do, as well as all the different solutions we bring to the table. However, if we just broadcast to our prospective clients and expect them to connect the dots between the capabilities of our products and services and the achievement of their business objectives, we are taking a huge risk. Our prospects usually dont know enough about all the different ways our products and services can be implemented or used to make the connection. Thats our job to do!
Adopting the results-based approach. The results-based approach takes a little more work and a little more time, but the payback is well worth the effort. You will need to invest some time reading about your prospects company on its Web site. You might decide to type the name of one or two of its key executives into an online search engine to see what comes up. You could find a recent news article or press release that would give you some insight into whats going on in its business.
This experience helped me realize what I consider to be the most important truth of selling: Nobody wants to buy your product or service.
Once you get your customer on the phone or walk into a meeting, youll start by asking a few important and relevant questions. You wont be worried about impressing the customer with all the facts and information about you and your company. Instead, you will impress your audience with what youve taken the time to learn about the business. Your objective will be to learn about the business, its goals, and the challenges it currently faces so you can position what you sell as a tool it can use to achieve its desired results.
Why this approach works. When we focus on helping our customers achieve their desired results, two very important things happen. First, we understand more. This enables us to better qualify the opportunity to make sure it is viable before we invest a bunch of time preparing presentations, demonstrations and proposals.
Second, our customers feel more understood. This dramatically changes your relationship with your client. Youll be perceived less like a salesperson and more like a partner or an adviser. When we use the results-based approach, we more effectively differentiate ourselves from our competition not just by what we sell, but by how we sell.
Using the results-based approach. When we first encounter a prospective customer, we find it at a place I refer to as point A. This is its current state. The first step in engaging a customer is learning as much about its current state as possible. What we hope to find is some aspect of its current situation that it is not happy with or that it would like to change. It could be a need, pain, problem, challenge, initiative, goal, or objective. Whatever label the customer uses, it represents a disparity between where it is now and where it would really like to be.
Hopefully, your prospective customer will be able to imagine (with your help) a different situation that it believes to be better than the situation it is in now. I refer to this desired future state as point C. This is the point at which your customer has solved its problem or achieved its desired results. Point C represents value to your customer. It could include almost anything. It might want to:
Expand its market share to increase revenue.
Cut costs to boost profitability.
Improve worker productivity to increase throughput.
Increase customer satisfaction to reduce client turnover.
Improve quality to reduce product returns.
The list of desirable business results is virtually endless. Throw in the personal interests of your prospective customers and the list is twice as long. These might include:
A simpler way to place orders for the products you sell.
Less hassle if the customer wants to return something.
Fresh ideas about how to use your solutions to improve its business.
The comfort of dealing with a supplier who really knows its industry.
What we need to do is determine if there is a gap between where our customer is now (A) and where they would really like to be (C) that we can fill with our solution, which I call Point B. We then position B as the vehicle or mechanism that helps it to get from A to C (see Figure 1).
Sometimes its not the actual product or service you sell that enables your customer to produce their desired business results. Often its the way you deliver what you sell that makes all the difference and thus sets you apart from the competition.
Positioning your solution. Using the results-based approach, we can learn enough about our customers that we can emphasize the capabilities of our solutions that lead directly to the results they want to accomplish. In the alphabet, these three letters appear as A, B, C. But we need to think about them starting with A, and then C, before we get to B (see Figure 2).
We should always remember that Point B has relevance only as it relates to helping our customer arrive at point C. Without a desirable C that our B can help the customer get to, our B is not a solution at all. Its just another product or service that nobody wants to buy. But when you position what you sell in the context of helping your customer get from its current state to its desired future state, youll be selling outcomes and results instead of products and services.
Bill Stinnett is the founder and president of Sales Excellence Inc. and the author of Think Like Your Customer (McGraw-Hill 2005) and Selling Results! (McGraw-Hill 2007). He can be reached at +1 800 524 1994 or [email protected].
Sales Excellence Inc. www.salesexcellence.com
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