Chapter 21: How To Take Data And Turn It Into Impact

You’ve followed Chapter 19 and 20, assembled a massive pile of facts and figures, and now have to find a way for it to make sense and show how it impacts your prospect.  You have probably found that the data can be grouped together in some obvious categories.  There are two bigger categories that all of the data will fit in:  Problem Data and Impact Data.  We covered Problem Data in Chapter 18, but what is Impact Data?

This is where you want to spend your time, as Impact Data is where the C-Level prospects spend their money.

All companies have problems, and some just sit there, year after year, annoying people who ask, “Why doesn’t the VP of Operations know about this and fix it?”  It is likely that the VP of Operations knows about the problem.  It is also likely that the problem has been evaluated, and one of two things have happened:  the impact of the problem is less than the money or time it would cost to fix the problem or the impact of the problem has not been supported by enough data to prove that fixing it is financially viable.

Understanding the impact of a problem is crucial for proving the business case for any solution you hope to provide.  There are five questions that form the basis of understanding the impact a problem can have on an organization:

  • How do you measure the problem?
  • What is the current situation?
  • What results would you like?
  • What is the value of those results?
  • What is the value of those results over time?

This is relatively straight forward when dealing with hard data.  For example, let’s say that you are trying to sell a university an electronic dormitory room key lock system.  Your conversation might sound something like this:

  • Prospect:  Your electronic dorm room key lock system would increase the security of our 400 dorm rooms.
  • You:  What is the biggest problem that our system would solve? (measurement)
  • Prospect:  We have too many old keys floating around.  We only know where about 80% of them are.
  • You:  That’s about 200 keys that you are missing. (current situation)  What would be an acceptable percentage of unaccounted keys?  (desired results)
  • Prospect:  We need it to be zero, because it costs us $65 to rekey a lock.
  • You:  Let’s see, 400 dorm rooms times $65 dollars a lock…that’s $26,000.  (value impact)
  • Prospect:  And students are constantly losing keys, getting duplicates, moving in and out of dorms…we just aren’t as safe as we could be.
  • You:  If this is a continuing problem, then over four years at two semesters per year, you could have a total of over $200,000 in rekeying costs.  (value impact over time)

Other types of products and services can be more difficult to prove impact, as they often rely on soft or inferred data.  For example, let’s say that you are trying to sell a mass notification system to a university that would alert students to dangerous situations on campus.  Your conversation might sound something like this:

  • Prospect:  Your software would help keep our students safe from gun violence on campus.
  • You:  Other than the possibility of fatalities, what is the biggest problem that gun violence would create for the university?  (measurement)
  • Prospect:  Our students and staff would feel very unsafe, and the bad press we would receive would severely harm the university’s reputation.
  • You:  How do your students and staff feel now, and what is your university’s reputation for security?  (current situation)
  • Prospect:  We’ve never had a major incident, so our students and staff feel safe, and we have a reputation as a place where parents can send their kids and know that they are safe.  This is especially important for our foreign students and their parents.  (prospects implies desired results)
  • You:  What would happen if you had an incident that made the evening news?  (value impact)
  • Prospect:  Other universities have seen their enrollments decline by 10%…almost 25% for foreign students.  (inferred data)
  • You:  Let’s be conservative…if we take your 20,000 students, reduce enrollment by just 5%, and multiply it by your $15,000 tuition…that’s about $15,000,000 in lost tuition alone, not counting the fact that foreign students pay more and stop attending at a higher rate.  (value impact)  How long would it take to regain your reputation, and ultimately your students?  (value impact over time)
  • Prospect:  Others have recovered in three years, some never fully recovered from their foreign student losses.
  • You:  If that is the case, your university could face well over $30,000,000 in tuition losses.  (value impact over time)

This is of course simplistic and scripted, but hopefully you can see how there needs to be a process to help both you and your prospect understand the impact of the problem, especially the financial impact, so that you can create a better business case.

Chapter 20: Helping Your Prospect Find Missing Data

In Chapter 19 we learned about the five types of data.  Knowing the different types of data (hard, soft, inferred, none, and fantasy) allows us to figure out if our prospect is dealing with real facts or not. Your first step is to ask questions to get a feel for just how solid those facts are.

Sometimes these can be easy softball questions (“You say that you don’t have a problem with shrinkage here at XYZ Retail Store…congratulations, that’s great, and very unusual!  Can you show me the audit records?  Maybe I can learn something here…”). Sometimes you may need more of a hardball statement (“You say you don’t have a problem with shrinkage here at XYZ Retail Store?  Really?  I’ve never heard of a client with zero shrinkage.  Why don’t we take a look at how the company has been auditing your inventory just to make sure…”).

How you ask questions about your prospect’s data depends on how deeply you have developed your relationship.  Obviously, a softball question is more appropriate for a first or second meeting – you can’t ask a hardball question right out of the gate unless you have established that personality trait as part of your hard-hitting, no-nonsense brand. Nobody expected that they would get easy questions when Mike Wallace showed up at their door, and if that is your image in your industry, feel free to charge ahead full speed.

Here’s the good news about data:  it either exists or it doesn’t exist:

  • What if the prospect has the data?
    • If it is soft or inferred data, can you help them solidify it with additional hard data?
    • If it is hard data, is it complete?
  • What if the prospect doesn’t have the data?
    • Does someone else have that data?  Can your prospect connect you to that person?
    • If nobody has the data, is there really a problem?
    • If nobody has the data, would your prospect like help in finding it?

You are not necessarily ahead of the game if your prospect has the data necessary to build a business case for your solution.  If you were not a part of the gathering process, you will never know how trustworthy that data is.  It is always a good idea, no matter how sure your prospect is, that you try to help them by furnishing additional data that you know is solid.  It will also serve as a reality check to see how the data that you bring is accepted by your prospect or his team.

When you bring any type of data into a team dynamic, it can be fascinating to see how different people react.  Put on your best x-ray glasses and look for those who may feel threatened that they are no longer the provider of data.  Healthy skepticism towards an outsider’s data is normal – unreasonable hostility to an outsider usually means problems for you down the road.

If your prospect doesn’t have the data necessary to build an effective business case for your solution, you are often better off.  First, if you bring or assist in bringing the data to the prospect, you will have a higher degree of faith that the data is accurate and useful. Second, if you both work together to find the data, you will be able to spend more time together and build a higher level of trust.  Collaboration is a much better way to work with a prospect, especially if the problem and solution is complex or technical in nature.

What if the client doesn’t want your help in obtaining the data?

This can be quite common.  Often, prospects can be a bit embarrassed when they realize that they were about to spend money on a project that is not supported by enough facts to create a solid business case.  They may push you off and say that they will go and get the data.  This can bring you back to square one, wondering if they are gathering hard, soft, inferred, or fantasy data.  You need to delicately push to assist them in this important part of the process.

You can help them realize that they need your help with a carefully worded question.  In the past, when I have encountered a prospect who didn’t want help finding or creating the necessary data, I have said something like, “I’m glad we agree that it is important to get this data before proceeding.  It’s great that you can go and get it now.  But I have to ask, if it is so important, why don’t you already have it?  It sounds like this may take some digging…I’d love to help so you don’t get too bogged down by this…”  Careful here – you need to walk that razor’s edge between being helpfully insistent and insulting.

What if they still want to do it themselves?  Enter the deadline statement: “No problem. To keep things moving, how about we set a date to review the data you are getting.  If you don’t have it by then, lets agree that at that point I’ll jump in and give you a hand.”

This can be very time consuming.  But it is time worth investing, as there is the possibility that you can use some of the data gathered with other prospects (stripped of anything that identifies your current prospect, of course) in similar industries as inferred data. More importantly, this is a great way to keep qualifying your prospect.  After all, is it really a good use of your time to work on a project with someone who is not concerned with supporting a business case for your solution with hard data?  That would only increase the odds of the solution failing to solve the real problem, or having the project cancelled before it starts because there was no convincing data that the solution would have an impact on the problem.

Chapter 19: Hard Data, Soft Data, Inferred Data, And Fantasy Data

As you help your prospect Confirm The Business Case, you may become frustrated to learn that she has been operating her division without much data on the problem at hand. In fact, you may learn that she has been working with no data or even wrong data.

Is that a problem?

Not necessarily. Some of the best time you can spend with a prospect is time discovering together what is real and what is not. Because you are a part of this discovery phase (and presumably your competitor is not, as he is just responding to an RFP), you can use this time to show your expertise, integrity, and desire for an optimum solution. Instead of handing over a 30-page proposal or clicking through a 2-hour slide deck, you are showing that you can be a long-term partner who will be an asset on not just this project, but on others in the future.

Who knows…you may just uncover the need for a much larger solution than originally planned.

Some of the facts needed to confirm your prospect’s original business case will be easy to understand. There are probably plenty of straightforward metrics to show that the old servers are slower, that new copy machines use a less expensive toner, or a new automated payroll system will reduce headcount requirements. Your prospect has probably already used this data as part of her own business case creation and ROI calculation. Ultimately, at some stage someone in senior management will ask something like, “Why should we spend money on this?” That is a not-too-subtle code for, “This may solve your problem, but what does it do for me?” The hard costs mentioned above may not be compelling enough for each person involved in the decision process for your project.

There are five types of data that you will need to address, and we will use a retail store for our example:

  • Hard data – often found in the finance department. For example, a store could perform an inventory and find that over the past six fiscal years they have experienced 5% shrinkage (a retailing industry term meaning, in our example, that the clothing store lost 5 out of every 100 sweaters they sold due to shoplifting or employee theft).
  • Soft data – often anecdotal, word of mouth, or from general statistics. For example, loss prevention specialists have historically told retailers that they will experience a shrinkage rate of 3%. This comes from years of studies over many companies, and can be used to help establish a standard of expectation.
  • Inferred data – often confused with soft data, it is instead a more focussed version of it. For example, the 3% shrinkage rate has been pulled from years of studying all kinds of retail stores. But this generalization may not apply for a consumer electronics store or a shoe store.
  • No data – not necessarily a bad thing, as discussed above. For example, our store may know nothing about their shrinkage rate because they have never performed an accurate inventory before. We can start at the ground level to help build the business case (and qualify the prospect).
  • Fantasy data – the worst kind of all! It is surprising how many prospects I have worked with who “believe what they want to believe” and disregard the hard, soft, or inferred data that doesn’t line up with the project they are working on. For example, the store may believe they have no problem with shrinkage, no matter how unlikely that may be.

Your prospect may believe that all of her data is hard data. It will take a bit of time and finesse to soft-pedal a quick lesson in the types of data that she really has versus what she thinks she has. Once your prospect understands this, you can begin the process of turning the other types of data into hard data. Yes, this will create extra work for you, but the relationship benefits that the extra effort creates will help you continue to qualify the opportunity, build additional trust, and keep your less involved competitors at bay.

Chapter 18: Is Your Prospect’s Problem REALLY A Problem?

Part of the process of Confirm The Business Case (Chapter 15) is to guide the conversation so that your prospect is actively engaged and not just giving you the same pre-programmed answers that he is giving back to your competitors. You know that if you focus on developing your questions (Chapter 16) so that they continuously clarify the prospect’s problems, desired results, and existing issues that you can then help them prioritize (Chapter 17).  Now it is time for two very important questions:

Is there really a problem?  Does it really matter?

Let’s break these down a bit.  When I ask if there is really a problem, we both know that the answer is yes.  After all, you’ve done the work associated with the above listed chapters. If you are meeting with the person who actually writes the check, then you are well on your way.  However, if you are working on a large, technical, or complex sale, you are going to have to help your prospect justify to others within his organization that there is indeed a real problem, and that takes evidence.

What evidence am I talking about?  Let’s go back to the example we used in Chapter 17 of replacing an antiquated e-mail system with a new one.  We asked our questions, and were told that “The existing system uses old servers which are becoming unreliable, we have a hard time pushing large attachments through the system, it won’t do web-based e-mail, and it is hard to keep anti-virus software up to date.”  We then helped our prospect prioritize these issues, and in the middle of that process found out that the president had a brand new iPad, which changed the priorities again.

Now that we have this kind of data, we need to ask the Who, What, Where, When, and How questions.  This is old school stuff, and you probably already know that you need to add hard data to some of the soft statements your client is making.  In the e-mail system example above, let’s take the first thing our prospect said, “The existing system uses old servers which are becoming unreliable.”  To properly build a business case, we need to ask questions such as:

  • Who manages the existing servers?
  • What are the existing problems?
  • Where will funding come from?
  • When will the budget be approved?
  • How will this project be managed between multiple stakeholders?

You get the idea.  These are all proof points that different people within the organization will want to understand, even if they are not directly responsible for the project.  These questions can seem obvious, but they help to clarify to others that there really is a problem.  The other aspect of building a business case is to quantify how the problem is negatively impacting the organization and then how a successful implementation would positively impact the organization.  For example:

  • Who is impacted by the server’s reliability problems?
  • What hard costs and soft costs are absorbed because of the reliability problems?
  • Where is the data that could verify those hard and soft costs?
  • When could the investment in the project reach a break-even point?
  • How can we measure if the project is successful?

These questions help to establish not only the impact that the problem is having on the prospect’s company, but to also set up a scorecard that can eventually be used to prove the success of your solution.  When you can answer these kinds of questions, you will be able to help your prospect show that not only do they really have a problem, but that it really matters.  It is surprising how many clients ultimately take this alternate way of exploring issues to assemble a compelling business case and use it in their daily life.  If they have been shot down in the past for projects that they worked on, they usually find that building a business case that the C-Suite can relate to is a skill that will pay dividends for years.

A side effect to this kind of questioning is that your contact may come to the realization that they do not understand the problem as well as they thought they did, especially when dealing with the financial impact.  In fact, it is likely that many of the answers are scattered throughout the company’s departments (silo alert!), and that some information is simply nonexistent.

This is not necessarily bad news.  In Chapter 11, “Yes Is Good, No Is Good (But Maybe Will Kill You!)” we discussed how bad news isn’t the end of the road, but just an inflection point.  We can show our value to our prospect not only by asking them tough questions that they can’t answer, but by showing them how to go about getting those answers so as to help build a strong business case for their project.

This will become very important down the road whether you submit your solution in a written proposal or as an in-person presentation.

Chapter 15: A Sales Process For Salespeople Who Hate Sales Processes

How many sales seminars have you been to that involved a lengthy or complicated sales procedure? Or perhaps they had a canned presentation with a general methodology that worked in their industry back in the days when they were carrying a bag? Too many, I’m betting. You’ve seen all kinds, from spreadsheet-intensive flow charts that require you to fill in all the blanks with names and titles whether they are pertinent or not, all the way to complex wall size documents that could have been used as a planning guide for the invasion of Normandy.

The problem? One size does not fit all. In fact, one size does not even fit one.

The reason is that every industry is different, with a unique sales cycle complicated by a multitude of factors. If you consider the individual nature of your prospect and the other people who will be a part of the decision, add the complexities of your own company plus your own sales style, it is easy to see why these overly complicated “fill in the blank” template sales seminars rarely have any lasting impact on salespeople. While they may make sense on paper, they become more of a hindrance than a help after just the first few minutes of your sales call (“Slow down Mr. Customer, I’m still filling in the blanks”).

After slinging all these arrows at sales processes, am I really going to offer you my own sales flowchart procedure? Yes, but I promise it won’t hurt. Much. It doesn’t fit into a nice format having exactly 10 steps or have the first letter in each step spell out a word. It would be great if the sales process was that predictable and linear, but so far, I’ve never seen that happen. At Client Centric Sales, there are ultimately only five phases:

  1. Confirm the Business Case
  2. Confirm the Budget
  3. Confirm the Scorecard
  4. Confirm the ROI
  5. Maintain the Client

It would be great if the last one was “Confirm the Client” so I could call this my “5 C’s Sales Program,” but then I would be as guilty as anyone else who was putting out a mnemonically titled program. You could argue that “Qualify the Prospect” should be added in there somewhere. But as regular readers of Client Centric Sales know, qualifying is done continuously within each of these steps. We will cover the above in more detail in coming chapters, but for now let me explain each a bit so that they make a bit more sense as we move forward:

Confirm the Business Case – We need to mutually examine the problems to be solved, agree on terms, eliminate assumptions, and verify that a solution exists. We must also understand the impact that our solution will have on the business, both positive and negative.

Confirm the Budget – We need to verify that there is a budget approved for the amount that is required for our proposed solution. It is also important that we align ourselves with our prospect’s expectation of not only the financial side of the budget, but also the time and people who will be required from both sides.

Confirm the Scorecard – There are many parts to the scorecard. We need to not only confirm that the person we are talking with is a decision maker, but we also need to verify who, if any, the other decision makers are. At this point we should have mutually created a scorecard that will be used to clarify what problems the product or service will solve, how it will solve them, whom it will impact, and how the purchase decision will be made.

Confirm the ROI – Here we finalize the business case with data gathered by our prospect and by our company. This data will be used to confirm in great detail how our product or service meets or exceeds the solution required for the prospect. This step is often the creation of a formal proposal or presentation, and it will summarize the data gathered in the first three steps.

Maintain the Client – Whether you won the sale or not will affect your future relationship with the prospect. If you were awarded the sale, it is only the first half of the relationship. Over the next five years, a well-maintained client relationship can produce additional revenue equal or greater to the original sale. If you were not awarded the sale, that doesn’t mean your engagement with this prospect should end with a slammed door.

We have covered all of the above in Chapters 1-14. Next we will spend more time getting into the detail of each of these steps.

Will the Client Centric Sales method work for all sales situations? Obviously, the answer is no. The depth of engagement that I am asking from you is best served when dealing with large, complex, or highly technical sales. And if you take the lessons we will be discussing in coming chapters as a guide, and then add the particulars of your personality, your company, your prospect, and your industry, then you can use these five simple steps to develop your own unique sales process that fits you perfectly.

Chapter 11: Yes Is Good, No Is Good (But Maybe Will Kill You!)

Salespeople, it seems, are pre-programmed from birth to always be seeking approval. We strive to get to Yes, not just because it can mean a commission check, but also because of our deep-seated need for an “attaboy.” At least that is what all of those management seminars try to tell us. You’ve probably been to them; they carve up the working world into a four groups, with salespeople ending up in the top righthand quadrant. This is the space for not only salespeople, but also for entertainers, evangelists, and other overly talkative people.

CEOs are usually in the top left quadrant, along with others who believe in no-nonsense, straightforward methodologies. Other examples for this group include sports coaches, generals and admirals, and Machiavelli. The bottom right typically is for those who think (and think and think and think) and include engineers, scientists and other ponderers. The final quadrant is reserved for the bane of all salespeople:  those in charge of making things the salesperson promised actually work. This group is full of project managers, estimators, and administrative people.

There is quite a bit of science that has gone into these types of categorizations. Some are quite complex, such as one that classifies people into 13 different groups with 3 modifiers. On several occasions I have worked directly with one firm, Personalysis, who teach a standard quadrant analysis but takes it to a higher level by teaching how to be more successful interacting with the different types of people you will encounter.

How each of these groups address good news, bad news, and ambiguous news is important when working with a client, but for now lets just try to understand how the different answers you get during your questioning process affect you.

Good news is good news. Simple enough. It is easy for the client to give us a Yes and it is easy for us to feel good about it. Examples are that the budget is established, our product or service can be offered in a way to meet the budget, and we have a great relationship with the client. We tend to push all good news to the front of the line and give it ample weight. But as we’ll see below, Yes is not always good news.

Bad news is also good news.

That’s right. Bad news is good news because it is definite, and a defined No means we have reached an understanding on a topic of discussion. Bad news may not be good news, but it is always better than vague news. Why is this?

Bad news is usually more accurate than good news. For example, if you were to ask your prospect if the project has a budget and he gives you a Yes, that may not be 100% true. There may be a committee that is talking about the budget, or maybe he is digging around for enough information from you to put together a rough budget for next year. So a Yes may not really be a firm Yes – it might just be a Qualified Yes. A Yes can be (and often is) fudged. But if the answer to the budget’s existence is No, that is usually a very Definite No.

No” is the most truthful thing your client can tell you.

In this example, your prospect has revealed the most critical part of the sales process…there is no budget! Better yet, because this is an easy Yes/No answer and the answer was No early on in the sales process, you have discovered that no matter how many presentations, how amazing our proposal, or how tight your relationship is, you may be spinning your wheels on someone who at best is twelve months away from a purchasing decision. A No is good because it keeps you in the qualifying process, helping you decide how much time you should spend with your prospect.

When a prospect says No, it does not mean that the sale is dead and you should move on. In fact, during any large, complex, or technical sale, you will be told No many times throughout the engagement. Usually, No just means there are more questions to ask, more people to meet, and a joint strategy session with your prospect to look at the project more realistically and find out if there is a qualified pathway that would allow you and your prospect to move forward.

The title of this chapter is Yes Is Good, No Is Good, But Maybe Will Kill You.  In Chapter 12, we dive into the shark-invested waters of Maybe.

Chapter 9: The Problem with Problems (and too many Assumptions)

There is more to the problem of assumptions than making sure that all parties have mutually agreed upon terms.  I have found that there are many different kinds of assumptions that can keep you from giving your client a great solution to their problem.

For instance, your client may assume that there actually is a problem when there isn’t.  Maybe there once was one, but for whatever reason, it is now gone, or that there never was a real problem in the first place.  It is also possible that the client may be focusing on a single problem, when there are really several problems.

While every salesperson may believe that his or her company has the best solution to the problem, there is a chance that there is no solution to the problem.  Alternately, the client may believe that there is only one solution to the problem when in fact there may be many. Or what if the reality is that the solution may be worse than the problem?  (Insert your favorite “the government made the solution worse than the problem” story here).

What if nobody cares about the problem?  While your contact may think that the problem is a mission-critical issue that could affect the very survival of the company, there is the possibility that nobody else believes him.  And if the person who signs the contracts and writes the checks for projects doesn’t think there is a real problem, then you have a very steep road ahead of you.

As more companies focus on ROI as part of their purchasing decisions, it may be a poor assumption that the problem and solution can be measured in a way to prove ROI.  In fact, it may be impossible to measure any aspect of the problem or solution.  Also, if the client has many people involved in the project, there is a great chance that each of them will have their own perception of the problem and the solution.  How do you handle this if your client has a team of twelve people who all want a piece of the decision?

One of the worst assumptions is that your client perceives your solution will solve the entire problem.  While it may be true that ultimately there are only two kinds of problems (people problems and money problems), the world of large, complex, or technical sales usually means that many problems within the client’s organization are causing varying amounts of influence and these can greatly affect any solution you may be proposing.

Let’s go back to our cloud-based CRM example from Chapter 8.  After lots of questions (Chapter 7), we all agreed that the client’s problem was that they couldn’t keep track of key data for their staff and customers, and they didn’t have a large budget to solve this problem.  In reality there would be much more to this, but let’s agree your product or service met the client’s stated needs.  How could this project possibly fail?

While your solution may solve your contact’s problem, it may cause real or imagined problems elsewhere, creating friction within the client’s organization that could  result in a failure of your solution.  For example, the IT department may not like the fact that your cloud-based CRM stores sensitive data offsite instead of on their servers.  The HR department may not like the additional responsibility of training staff on how to use the new system.  The finance department may not like the monthly software license costs, preferring to make a one-time purchase of a software program that the company would then own.  The CEO may not like spending any money at all.  And those always annoying, whiny salespeople?  Instead of efficient data management, they see management asking them to do more reports.

How do you overcome all of those problems?

Don’t get too overwrought by all of this.  Everyone involved in your project will have problems with assumptions – that’s just human nature.  However, if you are  aware of the multitude of assumptions that are being made, on both sides of the table, you can better navigate the sales process, keep qualifying, and reduce the possibility that some of those assumptions will have a negative impact.  Keep your eyes and ears open to these issues and you will walk a straighter path towards a successful sale and implementation of your solution.

Chapter 8: How do you spell ASSUME?

We all know the “to assume is to make an ASS out of U and ME” line, but how far are you willing to go to reach an understanding on the facts of the problem you are trying to solve?  In Chapter 7 we talked about creating trust so that you can mutually discover the full set of facts, but there is actually more to this than asking great questions.

The first assumption problem involves terms.  If you are a 20-year industry veteran, and the client is new to your industry, there is a potential minefield of errors that can get in the way of your fact digging based on differing ideas of what terms and phrases mean.  For example, let’s say that your client wants to talk to you about cloud-based CRM systems. We all know that it is poor form to talk in endless acronyms, but worse, CRM might mean one thing to you and another to your client.  And the cloud, as used in the computer industry, is so new and abstract to some people that you would definitely need to make sure you both were talking about the same thing.

How do you agree on the meaning of terms in a way that doesn’t sound condescending to your client?

Done properly, a quick discussion on terms can be a great way to show that you want to be 100% accurate in every aspect of the solution process (at the same time, it helps with your continuous prospect qualification process).  It might be something as simple as saying, “We’ve found that cloud-based customer relationship management systems (notice CRM is defined here, not abbreviated) can mean different things to different people.  To make sure we are on the same page, can you tell me what that means to you and what you are trying to accomplish?”

You might find out that to the client, CRM means Consumer Research Methodology. Better to find that out now than 30 minutes into a presentation.  Or you may find that their idea of a cloud platform is a Hotmail account when you think it means a hosted software platform with full redundancy and real-time failover.  Whatever happens, you have removed assumptions, clarified intent, and set up a pathway that you can now both go down together.  In addition, the client has had a chance to think about what her real problem is, and what a successful outcome might look like.

Using the example above, let’s assume that you and the client have agreed that a cloud-based CRM is a software package that resides on your company’s computer servers, is accessed over a standard web browser, and allows you to import, export, and sort data on the company’s staff and customers (an example of this is SalesForce).  The next step is to find out why your client wants this.  The client may answer, “I Googled it and found that it is cheaper to get a cloud-based system rather than a self-hosted system.”

If you sell cloud-based CRM systems, it is time to fire up the PowerPoint, show 12 slides of your company’s org charts, and close with the classic “sign here, three copies, press hard” and run for the door, right?

Not so fast.

If price is the only reason that they are buying this type of system, then you are now in the commodity business; in a race to the bottom to see who can have the lowest price and margin.  There is a place in every industry for the lowest cost product or service, but I’ve always preferred to be known as the Most Expensive Guy In Town (more on that later). There must be another thing other than price that is driving this decision.  There almost always is.

This is where real sales begins.

What about the other things that your company can do, such as give  24/7 for tech support, automatic software upgrades, user-friendly software, special customizations, etc? What about other advantages of cloud-based systems, such as real-time security against spam, malware, hackers, and Nigerian e-mail scams?  Only after agreeing on what each of these terms means to the client can you proceed in a way that makes you a resource to your client, and if you are resource, you can earn your way to Trusted Advisor status (see Chapter 3).

These are just assumptions on terms.  In Chapter 9, we will look at other types of more complex assumptions, all based on the frailties of the human mind.

Chapter 7: Earning Trust Before You Ask the Tough Questions

To fully succeed at sales, we must think and act with a client-centric mindset at all times.  To do that, we need to first gather accurate information from our prospect, and to get that information, we must have trust.

We can’t have trust until we earn trust.

What happens if at our first meeting, we ask, “what were the three biggest failures of your department last year?”  Count yourself lucky if instead of a door in the face, you only get a blank stare followed by a variation of, “our department has had no major issues over the past fiscal year.”  Either way, you are shut out, possibly for good. But you read “Chapter 6:  Partnering with your Prospect,” and you understand the need to ask those tough questions.  Why are our prospects afraid to answer those questions?  Don’t they want to help their company by doing a better job?

People are people, and whether it is due to personal ego, petty internal politics, the inability to get to useful information, or just because there has been so little trust built with past salespeople, most prospects have built up wide moats and massive walls to protect their world from people like you.  Don’t take it personally – it is just part of the dysfunctional sales dynamic that was built long before you were born.

How do you ask 100 MPH hardball questions when your prospect is used to underhand slow pitched softballs?  Or maybe even even used to hitting off the Tee?

(A note to my international friends:  sorry for the baseball sports analogy.  While I understand your puzzlement with an American sport that has an event called the World Series but negates to invite teams from outside North America, my shameful lack of cricket or rugby analogies forces my hand here.  Client-Centric Sales will endeavor to keep sports metaphors to a minimum.)

If you haven’t already, read Chapter 3:  Becoming an Expert in Order to Qualify Successfully.   When you become an expert on your prospect’s industry, company, and problems, you are taking down the first set of barriers that prospects usually put up. They will open the door quite a bit wider for you if they have “discovered” you through your previous industry networking on LinkedIn, through trade associations, or by referral.  If you managed to invite yourself for a meeting to discuss industry best practices and how upcoming regulations may impact their business, they may drop their defenses even further.  If you keep your corporate brochures and PowerPoints under lock and key (believe it or not, they don’t want to see your 12 slides of org charts), you have the possibility of opening up a real dialog.  And if during that initial dialog, which may take place over several meetings, you can keep your mind off your quota and instead focus on your prospects issues, you may become successful at avoiding the salesperson’s biggest offense:  Listening With Intent To Sell.

We’ve all done that.  We get a great dialog going and then 20% into the discussion, we start to tune out and figure out how we are going to sell the prospect the new POS-2150 GlurpMaster 2.0 with an extended warranty agreement.

Wrong.

Keep listening.  Don’t think solutions yet – that’s a ways off.  Listen some more.  Ask questions that help you both discover the deep sources of the problem instead of the more easily recognized topical symptoms.  Your competitors have already tried to sell bandaids; you, my friend, are going to do surgery. So listen.  When the prospect comes to what he or she believes is the end of the answer, keep digging. Your prospect may declare that he or she has reached a conclusion, and that you are ready to discuss a solution.  Don’t take the easy way out and stop there.  If you are working on what appears to be a promising line of questioning, keep going.  It is often as easy as taking a short pause, and asking, “what else?”

Asking “what else?” is an amazingly powerful question.  A local Fortune 500 company turned into a long term client due mainly to the fact that I kept asking that question. When the prospect got to the point that he thought he was done, I would ask “what else?” It was only after asking “what else?” 14 more times that we finally drilled down far enough for us both to understand the problem.  Reaching that understanding allowed us to zero in on a solution which saved the client almost $1M.

I didn’t sell anything that day.  I helped someone understand his business, identify a problem, and enact a solution.  The solution was simple and had nothing to do with my company or what I had to sell.  But you can bet the next time I met with this company, I was treated as a trusted advisor, not a salesman.  At that point, I was in a position to ask the really tough questions, discuss the elephants in the room, and mutually engage with this company to look at other issues that I could directly help them resolve.

Chapter 3: Becoming an Expert in Order to Qualify Successfully

If you had no need for money, but still wanted to work for your company, how would you treat your customers?  With no need to hit a quota, earn a commission, or impress a boss, would you interact in the same way as you do now? Let’s assume that you wouldn’t.  Let’s assume that you would only spend your time with clients who had problems you could solve, that you would work hard to put together the right solution to solve those problems, and that the client had the resources to enact your solution.

Now wouldn’t that be an enjoyable working relationship?

What if you are like most of us, and you need to hit your quota, earn your commission, and impress your boss?  You can have it all – great relationships with your clients, happy customers, and a great income, but you and your clients will have to change how you interact.  It means that in order to be an effective salesperson, you will have to greatly increase your knowledge of your prospects and their industries.  It means that you will have to earn the trust of the key people within those prospects.  And it means that you will need to push your prospects to dig for information that they don’t even know exists.

Joseph Stiglitz won a Nobel Prize for his work in economics.  One popular phrase to come out of that work is that “There is no such thing as perfect information.”  It has always surprised me that when I quizzed salespeople about a prospect that they were working on almost no information.  Often, all they knew was that there was an RFQ on the street. Salespeople would work hours and hours responding to these projects.  A handful of competitors would do the same, with nobody (often including the company who issued the RFQ) really understood the problems that the prospect was trying to solve.

How do you get this information?  It starts by increasing your knowledge of your prospects industry and the challenges that companies within it face.  For example, if you sell to the healthcare industry, do you know about HIPAA requirements and how they affect your prospect’s business?  While your product or service may not directly affect a hospital’s HIPAA requirements, this is something that greatly affects many aspects of a hospital’s business, and the more you understand the business drivers of your prospect, the better chance you have of becoming a trusted expert with integrity.

Those who only sell products become commoditized; those who provide wisdom and guidance become trusted experts who can’t be displaced by a competitor with a lower price.

There is no secret to learning a prospect’s industry.  The internet is an obvious place to start, and we won’t spend time discussing such basic things.  Learning about the major problems faced by the prospect’s industry in general is also straight forward, and just requires a commitment to spend the time learning about those problems.  Learning about the problems and key business drivers of a particular prospect is more difficult.  But this work is essential, and is part of the qualifying process that we discussed in Chapter 2.

One way to start this process is to join industry groups on LinkedIn or industry trade sites and respond to the postings there with comments or advice.  Join online groups associated with the problems and solutions that companies in your prospect’s industry are experiencing.  An important note: LinkedIn groups should be used to establish competence – this is not a place to give even a hint of a sales pitch.

You can use LinkedIn to determine who are the important people at your prospect’s company.  Join the groups that they have joined, comment on posts that they may be reading, and get introductions to them through your other connections.  With a bit of diligence, you can become an expert who is sought after instead of a salesperson to be avoided.  By doing this prep work up front before first contact with your prospect, you will be way ahead of your competitors.

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