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SELL THE DIFFERENCE: Establishing your Unique Solution Value

B2B sales people: You get delegated to the person you sound like

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 7-Sep-2010

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Art of ConversationThe quality of any conversation, whether business or social, is largely determined by who we choose to talk to, what we choose to talk about and the form of language we choose to use.

But in the business domain, and particularly as a sales person, your choices have another important impact - because if you get these choices wrong, and whether you like it or not, you’ll end up getting delegated to the person you sound like.

“Solution selling” is only part of the solution...

If you’re in high-tech, it’s hard to maintain high growth through technical product superiority alone, because the early adopters who buy that way represent such a shrinking percentage of today’s market. Today’s buyers are mostly risk-averse pragmatists who are looking for proven solutions.

That’s why many sales organisations have bought into the concept of “solution selling”.  They acknowledge the advantages of solving problems rather than promoting features. They make determined efforts to sell “top down” within a potential prospect. Their top performing sales people are often successful. But many more fall short of their targets.

Zen and the art of quality conversation...

Like many of us, the protagonist in Robert M Pirsig’s best-selling “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” struggled to formally define quality - but knew it when he saw it. Now, I’m not suggesting that we need to master either motorcycle maintenance or Zen, but I believe that we can all identify the characteristics of a “good” conversation.

One of the key attributes is relevance. When I conduct voice of the customer analyses on behalf of clients, senior decision makers frequently offer the same feedback about sales conversations: “As long as I am learning something of value, you’ve got my attention. Share a relevant insight, and I’ll want to hear more. But the moment you start pitching your product, you’ve lost me”.

Cut out the techno-babble...

These decision makers weren’t interested in product features - particularly if they were described using the techno-babble that still resonates around so many high tech industries. They wanted to be sure that the vendor empathised with their problems, had valuable insights to share and had a track record of delivering relevant solutions.

They distrusted claims that the vendor’s products were better, and wanted to understand how and why they were different. They needed to be sure that if they went ahead that the vendor would help them manage change and mitigate risk. They recognised the need for someone in their organisation to understand the underlying technical detail, but they “had people who did that for them”.

What top performing sales people do well...

When you look at the habits of successful, top-performing sales people, it becomes clear that they do one thing particularly well. They are able to empathise with senior decision makers, and they understand, use and reflect their language. Their conversations are full of anecdotes, examples and illustrations.

They resist the temptation to prescribe a solution until they fully understand the prospect’s problem, the underlying causes, and why it might be important to deal with it now. They avoid dealing with product detail until the time is right, and the need is clear. And when they do, they negotiate and manage access to the prospect’s relevant internal experts.

This behaviour can be learned...

There’s no doubt that some top-performers just have a natural gift for this sort of behaviour. They have the emotional intelligence that Tony Blair recently claimed was so lacking in Gordon Brown. But this customer-aware behaviour can be learned, and average sales people with potential can significantly boost their success rates by embracing the principle.

Above all, they must learn to take their time diagnosing the prospect’s situation and avoid prematurely prescribing the solution. When a prospect acknowledges a problem, issue or a goal, they must take the time to understand the root causes, the potential consequences and who else is affected. They need to build the economic case for change before they propose their solution.

Key next steps...

How can this be accomplished? It requires a team effort. Marketing (with sales’ help) needs to identify the issues that are catalysing change within their prospects and market to these themes. Top sales performers need to share the questions and anecdotes that they find most effective in advancing quality conversations in prospects.

The organisation needs to identify the common characteristics of winning deals, and to find ways of both connecting with similar prospects and conducting similarly successful sales campaigns. And sales people need to both be coached and encouraged to share best practices in the art of sustaining winning conversations with senior decision makers.

If they sound like the right people, they are less likely to get delegated to the wrong ones...

Topics: Sales Enablement, Sales + Marketing Alignment, Complex Sales