This article was first published in the October Edition of Top Sales Magazine.
Many of you will be familiar with the idea of having an Ideal Customer Profile - and if you’re not, you should be. The Ideal Customer Profile is a powerful tool that helps to align your entire organisation around the common characteristics of your most valuable existing and potential customers - a combination of demographic, structural and behavioural/cultural factors.
Having an Ideal Customer Profile (or profiles, if you have multiple solution offerings) enables you to much more accurately target and qualify potential new customers, and to rank your existing customers in terms of their future potential value. But it’s not enough.
In addition to identifying the right organisations, you also need to be laser-focused on the issues that you are really good at solving - issues that are important to these ideal customers and which you are potentially better placed than any other potential option to help them address. And that’s where your Priority Issue Profiles come in...
Fix, Avoid or Achieve?
A priority issue profile captures one or a number of related issues that organisations that match your ideal customer profile are likely to want to address as a matter of urgency. These typically fall into one of three categories:
- A problem they are determined to fix
- A risk they are determined to avoid
- An opportunity they are determined to achieve
Urgency is vital
In today’s business climate, the potential for urgency is vital. There’s not much value in targeting issues where - even if they are recognised - the customer is convinced they can get away with following their current path (at least for the moment) without suffering significant harm.
Even if you emerge as the preferred solution to a low-priority, non-urgent issue, most organisations have so many competing high-priority projects that your project is likely to be deferred until later - and maybe to never-at-all.
Your customers are looking for proof of rapid business value. Behemoth projects that take years to implement - let alone generate a meaningful return - are being side-lined in favour of smaller more agile projects that deliver initial value quickly.
Whereas in a previous era, sales organisations might have been tempted to pack as much into an initial project as possible so as to maximise the headline revenue potential, smarter sales organisations are now looking for smaller early wins that can be quickly won and generate rapid payback.
Identifying your “perfect issues”
Review your recent wins. What were the underlying business issues that drove your customers to take action? Which of your unique capabilities caused them to choose your solution? What was it that drove buyer urgency?
What evidence can you find to suggest that these issues are widely recognised within your ideal customer community? How would your prospective customers describe the issues? And how would they describe the consequences of failing to do something about them?
It’s important to avoid confusing functional needs with business issues. A functional need without an underlying high-priority business issue is unlikely to be actioned. It might arouse interest and initiate a dialogue, but it probably won’t result in a sale.
Building out the profiles
Having identified the most promising candidates for the priority issues you are going to target, you now need to build out clear profiles and compelling narratives for each of these issues.
You need to start by identifying how your prospective customer is likely to describe their issue, rather than what you happen to call your “solution”. You need to understand whether the issue falls into the fix, avoid, or achieve category - whether it represents a problem, a risk, or an opportunity to your prospective customer.
What are the typical symptoms associated with the issue? How would your prospect recognise that they had the issue? How could you recognise that your prospect is suffering from the issue? Is there anything you can do to make the issue more visible?
And what about the costs and consequences of the issue? What would happen if your customer allowed the situation to continue? How might that result in avoidable cost or risk, and how might failing to address the issue result in a loss of revenue? And what about the impact on effectiveness, productivity, or customer satisfaction?
Your goal - having got your potential customer to recognise the issue - is to ensure that they also recognise to the fullest possible extent the negative consequences associated with carrying on following their current path. It’s vital that you “sell the problem” before you attempt to sell your solution.
Connecting their issues with your capabilities
You then need to help them to recognise the capabilities they are going to need if they are going to successful address the issue. You need to convince them that your experience and your approach offers them the best chance of achieving the outcomes they are looking for.
If you can achieve this, you put yourself in the best possible position to ensure that they decide to take action, and to differentiate your solution from all their other options. At all times, you want to lead towards, rather than with, your solution.
So - has your organisation identified your ideal customer profile(s) - and have you identified and profiled your prospect’s priority issues in a way that lays the foundation for a successful sales campaign?
And if not, can you imagine how much effort your salespeople are wasting pursuing opportunities that will never close, and missing out on opportunities that - if only they could have uncovered and developed - they would have a great chance of winning?
Here's a link to the magazine.
About the Author
Bob Apollo is a Founding Fellow of the Institute of Professional Sales, a founding contributor to the International Journal of Sales Transformation, a recognised Sales Futurist, 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.