In the early days of my sales career, I was taught to sell features and benefits. Later, Solution Selling, Consultative Selling, Precision Questions, Spin Selling and other sales methodologies like them espoused the importance of asking the right questions to understand buyer pain in order to sell your solution.
For there to be pain, a problem had to be identified. Once identified, you then draw the correlation between the buyer’s pain and how your product or service is the buyer’s cure. Taking it further, if you are doing your job well, you also have to break through the inertia of what is likely your toughest competitor – the status quo. Your prospect may have identified a problem that is causing them business pain, but is the pain acute or chronic? In other words, is the pain something that they’ve lived with long enough that they will continue to allow it to go on, OR has the problem become so acutely painful that they absolutely must make a change?
Recently, I’ve had conversations with Judy Mod and Matt Rosenhaft, Principals at Social Gastronomy. They work with technology companies to overcome what they call the “buyer adoption” problem. Turns out that companies are getting in their own way. They very often hinder the buying process rather than further it along. In an April 2014 blog post, Chuck Carey had this to say, “Buyers measure success based on how well you resolved their problem, not how well you met their expectations.”
When it comes to problems, there are two things happening.
1. Your prospect thinks they have identified a business problem that they need to fix. Is it the right problem? Are you sure?
Doubtful that your buyer is sure. According to Matt and Judy, the challenge sellers (and marketers) face is that it is darn difficult for internal teams to all agree on what the acute problem is much less agree on how to fix it. As with so many things in life, most folks simply focus their attention on symptoms without delving deeper into the root cause of the pain the organization suffers from.
I think of countless sales situations I’ve found myself in where the buyer tells me the problem is X, and after I ask more questions, I find out that on surface X looks to be correct, but the deeper digging uncovered something more revealing.
In one sales meeting, the buyer tells me that the “problem” is that their salespeople are having trouble getting access to decision makers. They reached out to me thinking that social selling was the way to go. Maybe. During the conversation, the buyer assured me that once a salesperson secured the meeting, they “always closed the deal”. When I hear that, I’m suspicious. I don’t care how good a salesperson you are, you never win them all. Curious, I ask them to tell me the percentage ratio of meetings to closed deals. Guess what. They can’t. Why? Because by their own admission, their salespeople are notoriously bad about entering sales opportunities and communication into their CRM system. They just don’t do it most of the time. If there is very little data regarding the sales pipeline and funnel progression stages, how do they know salespeople always close the deal? The discussion went on from there but you get the idea. They were not close to being clear about the real problem.
2. Do you know what problem your solution solves and can you clearly articulate that message?
Given how many sales presentations I’ve listened to, I’d say that the answer is no. If you, as the salesperson, don’t know what problem your solution solves, do you really think your prospect can simply connect the random dots and figure it out on their own? When it comes to marketing and selling your products and services, your potential customers DO NOT CARE about the process of how you get things done. Nor do they really care about the technical details. Sure, if it is a technology solution the IT guys might, but that comes later. In the initial stages of determining what product or service to purchase, your prospect cares about one thing - finding the right solution to solve their problem.
Forget the Features
I cannot say this enough. Though I know this is sooooo difficult for sellers to hear. They’ve been brainwashed to think that buyers make decisions based on features. They don’t.
Consider this basic recipe:
1. Understand the problem your solution solves. If you can’t speak to that, you’re sunk.
2. Get to the core of the problem that the buyer you are talking with needs to solve.
3. Determine if there is a match.
4. If so, help the buyer connect the dots by mapping your solution to their problem. Again, it isn’t the features that will win the deal!
The feature dance leads nowhere, and if you keep selling that way, you’ll be dancing all alone! That sounds kinda lonely to me.