Solution Selling: 3 Killer Secrets to Success

Here’s some really good news.

First off, if you’re selling a solution or service of any kind, the chances are your competitors are doing a pretty terrible job. 

How do I know that for sure? 

Simply because the people they’re selling to tell me that 9 out 10 sales meetings, presentations, sales discussions or sales pitches they get are dreadful.

The main complaint is that for the customer it’s very rarely a useful, insightful and productive conversation. More often than not, it’s a death by PowerPoint boast about turnover, number of employees and a meaningless page of “big name logos” followed by a series of banal and self-serving “discovery questions” which all too rapidly are followed by a clumsy “feature blast” and product pitch that almost inevitably will end with a trail close of some sort or other.

The customer is left feeling they’ve just wasted the last hour of their life, they’ve answered the same questions they always get asked and they’ve actually learnt or achieved nothing of tangible value that will help them in their role or with any of the things that challenge them day-to-day.

So how can you make sure you’re not the next “terrible” “solution” selling product pusher who walks through the door?

How can you stand out as being someone they are keen to open up to, are happy to meet again and someone they would choose to do business with over and above everyone else that’s knocking at their door?

Well here are 3 Killer Secrets to Success that come directly from the very people you’re trying sell to…pay attention… they WANT you to know this stuff:

1. You are NOT providing them with a SOLUTION 

Whether you like it or not your beautifully packaged “solution” is simply a component as far as your customer is concerned. What you happily present as a complete package of products or services in reality has to fit into and alongside all manner of other such “packages” and myriad other internal and incumbent systems or processes that the person you’re selling to  has to consider, deal with and integrate, in order to get ANY value at all out of what you’re offering.

Interestingly, not only do I KNOW this from having been told it by senior level decision makers over the years, but it is also backed up in extensive research by the Corporate Executive Board in their seminal book The Challenger Sale, which evidences that in buying a “solution”, it is in fact the CUSTOMER that has to do all the work to customize your “solution” to integrate it into all the other elements they need to consider, BEFORE they can derive any value from it at all.

So what do you need to know?

  • Understand that the customer’s “problem” is bigger than your “solution”
  • Prepare your proposition by considering this up front. How will you help the customer to buy and what do you need to incorporate in your offer to make what you’re presenting, easy to for them to implement?
  • In the sales meeting or presentation make your INTEREST and UNDERSTANDING of your customer’s need to integrate your solution clear. Ask probing and empathetic questions that EVIDENCE you “get it”.

2. DON’T Ask them “What Keeps you awake at night?”

I know most sales people consider this to be a great way to get the customer to “open up” about where their pain points are. I can assure you that the same sales people haven’t got a clue that it not only drives your customer nuts, but it is actually damaging your chances of making any real progress.

Why?

  • Because it’s the same uninspired “out of the text-book” question that every other “clockwork” sales dummy they see that day will ask.
  • It evidences that you haven’t got a clue about the person you’re speaking to. That you haven’t bothered to research them or their company or their industry enough to be able to ask anything even a little bit more tailored.
  • It shows that to you, they are simply part of the “numbers game”. One more “pitch on the list” one more “no” on route to a “yes”. Do you think that makes you look like someone who could add value to the customer or someone they can’t wait to leave?
  • Most Importantly though…it will get you the same answer the customer has given to every one of your competitors who’s been dumb enough to ask it! You won’t get any real insight, you won’t get any deep understanding of how you can position your offering to add real value, create real differentiation and to be able to sell at the highest price. You’ll just join the list of competitors selling something that can now be boiled down simply to price.

So what should you do or ask?

I suggest you aim for a conversation rather than a presentation. I suggest you do your homework when you develop your proposition (that’s the marketing bit) so that you can offer real insight and I suggest you make sure you’ve done your research on the people you’re meeting before you meet them. Design and discuss an idea or insight with them that both evidences your understanding of the wider issues and challenges THEY face, and enables them to think and talk expansively about how they might use it, change it, incorporate it into their business. You and THEY will get a good deal more from a meeting when you do this than if you turn up with a “solution” you need to “punt” at the first sign of any “need” you can match it to.

Again, The Challenger Sale is great at helping you explore this. I also use the Business Model Canvas and of course SureFire Excellence for preparing propositions that make this work brilliantly and open up much bigger opportunities more quickly.

3. Who’s really BUYING?

It probably goes without saying (I hope) that in most instances and where you’re selling a complex or big-ticket service or solution, there will be more than one person or department involved in the decision to buy.

A well constructed value proposition will provide the sales person with the tools they need to engage and talk confidently to each and every member of the  Decision Making Unit. It should also enable the sales person to make the proposition relevant, valuable and a priority decision for each party too.

The real key here though is to understand how the decision process really works. And be aware…it’s changed since you last looked at it. Again (and I’m not on commission here!) but the Challenger Sales research evidences that post recession, just about all big-ticket decisions are now made by consensus. Be clear, that’s important. A few years ago when you were selling to one “department head” or VP you could be sure if you closed them, the deal was done.

Not any longer. Now even the most senior of decision makers will reach out to their peers across the business as well as down into their team to gain consensus before going ahead. Buyers (as individuals) are now highly risk averse. So be prepared.

Here are a few pointers:

  • ASK and understand how the decision is to be made up front.
  • Determine (and you should do this when you develop your proposition) how you will HELP your customer to take and sell YOUR Proposition UP and across into the business.
  • Make sure you know and understand what the CFO/FD’s top priorities are this year. Unless what you’re selling addresses one of those, you will be in for an uphill battle.
  • Find out what the CFO/FD (The business) sets as their “hurdle rates” – this is important. These are the terms or criteria set by the CFO/FD for any business case or proposition that comes across their desk for approval. If your proposition doesn’t get over the hurdles, it doesn’t even get to first base.

Those are the top three things I think you need to know and consider when selling solutions.

What do you think?

PS: I can help you think differently about your sales and marketing approaches. If you’d like more insight, ideas and support get in touch.

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Marketing’s Most Important Role?

There’s something really quite strange that happens in organisations of all sizes all over the planet all the time.

Marketing people (very intelligent ones too) get into rooms with white boards and start planning who the company should target and what they should target them with.

They will each have their own approach and model (you hope) and they will happily discuss and debate the next marketing initiative for as long as they are able until they are happy that they have it all mapped out, the next great “big idea”.

The really good ones will have invited some sales people to the discussion too (although this is rare as sales people tend to think this sort of thing is for the “coloring in department” and marketing people think that the sales folk won’t get it).

Either way, in matter of a few meetings out comes the latest initiative and quite probably a brand new value proposition and set of sales and marketing messages.

All good then..?

Well maybe, but what if I told you that 9 times out of 10 this was all just one big fat self-deluding guess. 

It feels great to tick the boxes, produce the messages and get the programme out. Everyone gets a pat on the back and sits back and waits for the orders to roll in.

Sometimes they do.

Most of the time they don’t or (what’s probably worse) what comes in is not what you expected at all, in fact every order is different and needs a different set of services, skills and products to serve it and likely they will deliver cash at different rates and profit that’s all over the place too.

In most instances it just doesn’t really deliver what you expect it to. I know personally of global corporations who spend vast sums on programs that net no business at all – I bet you do too.

So what’s the problem?

Well there’s a little more to it than meets the eye…but…guess who wasn’t invited to the planning meetings or workshops. Guess who’s input and views and experience you didn’t take into consideration.

Strangely the last person organisations are happy to talk to when it comes to building new programs or propositions, is the customer.

It’s bizarre. It’s actually as if the marketing team are afraid to ask to meet with and speak to the customers or even perhaps that it didn’t dawn on them to ask at all.

I met with a very senior executive from a global corporation last month who told me that often his team would come to him and say “what do you think about this value proposition?”. And his answer was “why do you care what I think?”…”One thing I can guarantee you is that I am never going to buy it”. “Have you asked any customers?”. …..