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    Outcome-Centric Selling: it starts with the issues

    Bob Apollo
    Post by Bob Apollo
    February 15, 2024
    Outcome-Centric Selling: it starts with the issues

    This is the first in a series of articles that explores each key building block of Outcome-Centric Selling® - and provides simple, actionable guidance for putting them into practice (by the way, if you can’t wait, and would like a fuller appreciation of all the underlying principles and concepts, you could always download our guide to Mastering Outcome-Centric Selling or sign up to our Academy).

    Perhaps the most fundamental question that every salesperson (and sales organisation) needs to answer is “what business issues should we be targeting”?

    This is not about how great our company is, or how our offerings are (from our often biased perspective) “better” than the competition. This is about the business issues that our organisation has a proven and credible track record of being really good at addressing and which also turn out to be really important priorities for our most valuable potential customers.

    Whenever salespeople and marketers ignore or fail to understand this fundamental question, they invariably end up spewing streams of irrelevant information about their organisation and their offerings into an unreceptive void - and wondering why their response rates are so low, and why their prospect engagement is so poor.

    Beyond functional needs

    This is not (just) about targeting functional needs or solution categories: if the buying decision is seen by the customer as being significant, and if approval is likely to require the support of multiple stakeholders drawn from different business functions, then it is critically important that we focus on the underlying business issues and drivers and not just on the required functionality.

    It also requires that we describe the business issues and their related implications using language that our prospective customer can relate to - using words and phrases they would themselves use when discussing the issue internally with their fellow stakeholders.

    Understanding the likely implications is every bit as important as identifying the issues themselves: an issue that is not associated with significant consequences is usually an issue that will end up being pushed to the bottom of our customer’s “to-do” list.

    Implications for research

    When researching which issues to target, we need to talk to our existing customers and prospects, and understand what issues initially triggered their search for a solution, how they would describe them, and what they saw the potential consequences being.

    This is not just about understanding what they saw as the benefits of addressing the issue, it’s also about understanding what they perceived to be the costs and consequences of inaction - and the downside of staying on their current path.

    What makes an issue worth targeting?

    • It is a business issue, and not just a functional need - our prospective customers would describe it in terms of a problem or challenge they need to fix, avoid, or achieve rather than just a category of thing that they want to buy
    • It is a common problem that a significant number of potential customers are likely to be suffering from, which allows us to offer a replicable, proven solution rather than something that needs to be developed each time from scratch
    • We have proven experience and a track record of solving this problem for a growing number of other similar customers who are referenceable and are prepared to share their experiences with others
    • Our customer can expect to derive significant business value from addressing the issue, and we can in turn can expect to establish a lasting and profitable relationship with our customer
    Three key considerations

    Customers consider three key factors when considering whether to deal with an issue: is the issue strategically relevant, is it tactically urgent, and can they expect to achieve rapid time-to-value?

    • Strategically relevant issues are aligned with the customer’s long-term goals, support their strategic objectives, and significantly impact their future business performance. If not, the issue will probably be seen as a low long-term priority
    • Tactically urgent issues are aligned with the customer’s immediate priorities, support their current initiatives, and significantly impact their short-term business performance. If not, they are unlikely to be seen as a short-term priorities
    • Projects are likely to be seen as delivering rapid time to value when initial benefits can be quickly achieved, when we can prove track record of success, and when the customer can be confident in their ultimate outcome. If not, the project will probably struggle to get funded or approved
    Improving our prospecting by focusing on issues

    Here’s how applying key business issue thinking can improve the effectiveness of our prospecting activities:

    • Leading towards, rather than with, our “solutions” - and resisting the “itch to pitch”
    • Focusing on common business issues that we are confident we have a best-in-class solution for
    • Encouraging us to look for the symptoms that indicate an organization could be suffering from these issues
    • Enabling us to anticipate the typical impact on a prospective customer of failing to address them
    • Showing how our offerings have helped similar organizations to overcome similar issues
    Improving opportunity qualification by focusing on issues:

    Here’s how applying business issue thinking can improve the effectiveness of our opportunity qualification:

    • Has our potential customer acknowledged one or a number of serious business issues that we have a track record of being able to address?
    • Are the issue’s symptoms and indicators clear to the stakeholders in the buying decision?
    • Do they acknowledge that the impact of the issue(s) at an organization and personal level is sufficient to drive urgent action?
    • Is the customer confident that they will achieve their intended outcomes if they work with us to address their issue(s)?
    In summary
    • We need to identify, prioritize, and target the key business issues that our company is best-in-class at helping our customers address, and where we can demonstrate a track record of success
    • We need to focus on business issues, and not just functional needs, and we need to adapt our approach depending on whether the issue is something our customer needs to fix, to avoid or to achieve
    • We need to target issues that are likely to be both strategically relevant and tactically urgent to our potential customers, and where our solution is capable of delivering rapid time-to-value
    • We need to identify, understand, and seek out the symptoms that indicate that a potential customer may be suffering from these targeted issues
    • We need to anticipate the impact these targeted issues may typically be having at an organizational, functional and/or personal level
    • We need to be clear about how our approach will enable our customer to address the issue and why they should be confident that we will enable them to achieve the positive outcomes they are looking for
    • Having a clear sense of the key business issues we are going to prioritize, and target enables us to both prospect more effectively and qualify more accurately

    Becoming outcome-centric is a journey, not a destination. There will always be ways in which we can increase the probability that every customer will recognise the value of our offerings in terms of the business outcomes we enable them to achieve. And the sooner we start the journey, the further we will progress down that path.

    Here are the links again to “Mastering Outcome-Centric Selling” and the Academy.

    In the next article in this series, we’ll turn our attention to profiling the common characteristics of the organisations that are most likely to want to urgently deal with the issues we have chosen to target.

    Bob Apollo
    Post by Bob Apollo
    February 15, 2024
    Bob Apollo is a Fellow of the Institute of Sales Professionals, a regular contributor to the International Journal of Sales Transformation and Top Sales World Magazine, and the driving force behind Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the leading proponents of outcome-centric selling. Following a successful corporate career spanning start-ups, scale-ups and market leaders, Bob now works as a strategic advisor, mentor, trainer and coach to ambitious B2B sales organisations - teaching them how to differentiate themselves through their provably superior approach to achieving their customer's desired outcomes.