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Understanding the Difference Between Conditions and Barriers

by Doug Davidoff | May 4, 2009 12:03:33 PM

barrierEarlier this week, we were working with one of our client's sales reps to develop their sales strategy for an account.  We teach a very effective structure for any sales presentation.  The key to the presentation is to first focus on the results that your buyer desires (this is harder than it looks) and then to identify the barriers that are preventing your buyer from achieving those results.  The more fully you identify the barriers, the more effective your sales presentation will be - as that is the key to your value creation.  If you've clearly and fully identified the results and barriers facing your buyer, then selling is one of the most effortless pursuits there is (of course, the challenge is fully identifying the results and barriers).  On the flip side, if you have not fully and clearly identified them, then selling can feel an awful lot like trying to breakthrough cellophane.

The rep we were working with made a very common mistake - he was confusing conditions with barriers.  Most sellers, especially those that purport to be "solution selling," sell to conditions rather than barriers.  Commoditizing themselves even more.  As a selling organization it is critical that you understand the difference between conditions and barriers.

    • A condition is any circumstance or situation where a company finds itself.  Some conditions are negative and some are positive.

    • Barriers are the reasons that a company is unable to either a) overcome a negative condition, or b) increase the momentum from a positive condition.

For example, let's say that ABC Company is looking to double its revenue over the next five years, while increasing its net margins by 10%.

So, you ask the barrier revealing question: "What is preventing you from getting there?"  They respond:

    • Poor sales effort.

    • Ineffective management systems.

    • Too concentrated in one area of business.

    • Heavy competition.

Those four points are conditions - not barriers.  That's their self diagnosis; it's what they are already aware of.  If you begin "selling" to these conditions, you are no different than every other salesperson that is selling to them. Think about it for a moment - the mere fact that they've shared these four conditions with you proves a) they are already familiar with these issues, so addressing only them creates no value; and b) addressing only these issues will not solve the problem - if it would, your buyer would have already solved the problem.  As a seller, your job - and the only way to truly and effectively differentiate yourself from the peddlers out there - is to dig deeper.  That is what diagnosing is all about.  The powerful questions should be focused on why the buyer has been unable to overcome those conditions.

If you're thinking, "But they don't know the answer to that question;" then you are on to something.  Salespeople create value when they ask questions that buyers do not easily have answers for.  Every time I speak about Creating Demand someone says to me, "But, Doug, there is nothing we can say that our competitors can't also say - even if the competitor is not telling the truth."  And I agree with that sentiment.  While there is nothing you can say that can make you radically different there is plenty you can do.  And the first step of what you can do is to dig deeper and help your buyers understand their barriers.

Before I give you some examples of barriers, let me highlight two critical points.  First, barriers are as unique and unlimited as there are companies out there buying and selling - these four conditions could have any of a thousand barriers.  Second, the barriers that are uncovered are going to have a lot to do with what you are selling, or the "solution" you are providing.  For example, the barriers I'd uncover would be very different from what an accounting firm would uncover, or any other company.  That said, here are some potential barriers for ABC Company (from my perspective):

    • Poor sales team structure

    • Inadequate or misaligned compensation

    • Poor messaging

    • Diffuse value proposition

    • Lack of accountability

    • Poor offering

    • Old offering

    • Poor hiring/recruiting

I could go on and on. You know you're addressing a barrier when it is clearly a cause for at least one of the conditions - and most likely for several of them.  It's a barrier when it directly relates to an action the company can take - or avoid. My job, as a salesperson is to have the conversation with the client to narrow potential barriers into a critical list of 3 - 5  that would have the greatest impact towards driving their results.  When you do this, you are communicating with your buyers at a level that none of your competitors can.  You begin to sell something wholly and completely different than your competitors.  Price stops being the driving issue, because your buyer begins to understand through experience that you are different - and better.  And that by paying a bit more they may actually solve their problems.