Last week I talked about the opportunities that are present to create real value in the sales process. I shared the idea that when you’re selling well, it shouldn’t feel like selling – to you or your customer.
While last week’s post highlighted the importance of helping the customer better understand their problems, the causes of those problems and the cost of the problem, Today, I’m going to focus on the second half of the design phase.
Collaboration & Value Creation
When the problem is clearly identified and understood, you’re ready to begin the next phase of the sales process – designing the solution.
I’m always surprised by how little time is spent by most salespeople in what I like to call the design phase of the sale. There are a lot of assumptions that occur from both parties, and as my mom always told me, When you assume, you…, well you get the idea.
The key mistake here occurs when the seller assumes the customer knows what they want. It’s an easy mistake to make, because prospects and customers sound clear and certain when they reach out and begin discussions with a seller. This problem is heightened by the fact that customers are doing increasingly more research and due diligence before beginning conversations with a vendor.
Buyers today have access to the same information that sellers have, so sellers have to move beyond information to become knowledge creators. As the Challenger Sale research done by the Sales Executive Council illustrates:
Customers no longer seek someone to help them assess solutions and serve their needs. They give their business to someone who challenges their thinking, improving their business. The best sales reps deliver insight, pushing customers and teaching them to manage their business.
While the first phase is the ideal place to begin this process, when the focus moves to solving the problem, the approach should not change.
Designing The Solution
In this phase there are also three distinct decisions that are made:
- Clear set of expectations to define success.
- The resources that will be allocated to achieve those expectations.
- The trade-offs that will be accepted.
There is tremendous opportunity to create value in helping your customers navigate these complex areas. As I shared in the post last week, just as your customers don’t understand their problems, they certainly don’t know what’s possible or what they should expect.
This lack of clarity is one of the major drivers of decision reluctance. Your deep knowledge of their business, their problem and the options available to solve those problems will help them identify whether:
- Their expectations are reasonable.
- They should be expecting more.
- They should be looking at alternatives.
When your conversation is focused on those areas, you’re not going to be perceived as a salesperson. You’ll be seen as a valuable resource that is critical to creating the very success they’re looking for.
Studies show that as the rate of information increases, the knowledge gained actually decreases. In today’s information-rich world, parsing that information into actionable intelligence can seem virtually impossible. When you study the challenges customers face when making decisions you quickly realize that they are suffering from a lack of context.
This lack of context is eroding their confidence, and accelerating the race to the bottom for prices, and the unprecedented power that procurement is playing in decisions. This leads to bad business for sellers, and bad outcomes for customers.
The third area where you can stand out and drive successful business is to be a curator of actionable intelligence. Even if you don’t have a superior product, when you demonstrate that you can help your customers make superior decisions, you win more business.
There are some simple rules you must follow when curating knowledge. The central piece is that you must come across as credible and customer focused.
This means that the focus of your curation needs to be on helping the customer make a good decision, not on serving your interests. You must share and/or create objective knowledge that does not always serve your interest.
The bottom line is that selling, as it’s traditionally applied, doesn’t work anymore – for the buyer or the seller; so stop doing it. Seek the higher ground, focus on creating value, on helping your customers and sales will follow.