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.

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Chapter 17: How To Ask Your Prospect Questions That Help Prioritize

In Chapter 16 we looked at the first part of the process called Confirm The Business Case.  As you would expect, an important part of this phase is creating an understanding of all the issues facing your prospect.  The next part of this phase is to help your prospect prioritize these issues.

If you plan your day the way most experts say you should, you probably write down everything you need to do, prioritize the list, and then work on the most important things first.  We all agree that this is an intelligent and efficient way of doing things.  So why is it that when working with a prospect and asking the questions that reveal the true depth of the problems, desired results, and issues we will be dealing with that we become so haphazard and random in our methodology?

We start well enough.  “What keeps you up at night?” is an unoriginal, but often good place to start.  We may even have the discipline to ask a few more questions, but then our inner-salesperson takes charge and we start to talk about our wonderful solution.  All of a sudden, our dialog has become a monolog, and there is a good chance we will be going down the wrong road with our prospect.

Why wouldn’t we want to discuss the first things that come up first?  Wouldn’t those be the most important things on the prospect’s mind?

Maybe.  But that’s an assumption.  And it could keep you away from other critically important opportunities that you may be able to help with.  And your prospect’s stated #1 issue may be only a minor issue for his company.  We need to fight our human nature of immediate problem solving and instead keep asking and asking until we have exhausted ourselves and all of the problems, desired results, and issues are down on paper.

How do we know when we have asked enough questions?

Perfecting your listening skills is critical for your success.  Let’s take the sale of a new e-mail system as an example.  Your first few questions will probably draw out the obvious answers.  “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” could be a response.  While you may have the perfect solution to solve these few problems, it is likely that others do as well. Stopping here means that you are the same as all the other salespeople, which means pricing will matter more than you would like.

If you ask more questions and drill down with “what else?” (Chapter 7), you can learn about the impact these issues have.  If you were to ask, “Why are large attachments a problem?” you might get a response that ultimately leads to problems with the existing network, not just the e-mail system.  If that was the case, imagine the time and angst involved in explaining how your new software didn’t solve the large attachment problem.

After patiently asking questions, you will probably see patterns emerge and will be able to start grouping answers together.  When you believe that you have narrowed down your large set of questions into the key issues, you can qualify those issues by asking your prospect to prioritize them.  There is a good chance that they will say that all of the issues are important, and they probably are.  But it is essential that you prioritize them, as it helps establish the value of each issue, a crucial part of understanding the ROI of your eventual solution.

“We’ll probably need to replace our servers regardless of what we do, so that’s the highest priority,” your prospect may say.  “Attachments are the second priority, and I’ll have my network people take a look at some of the bandwidth problems and see if they can diagnose that.  We are going to expand into healthcare records next year, and by then we’ll need better antivirus software in place, so that’s number three.  Our traveling executives have been complaining about access to their e-mail when they don’t have their own computers with them, so that’s number four.”

It is a good idea to summarize and ask, “If we could solve these stated problems and give you the results you said you were expecting, would our e-mail system do everything you want it to do?”  Give your prospect time to think about this.  Endure the silence.  “Well, the president just got a new iPad, but he’s the only guy using one.”

Wait just a minute.  Did your highly tuned listening skills just hear that?  Did your experienced ‘corporate politics’ brain just process that?

This is the part where the smart salesperson says, “Tell me more about the president and his new iPad…”

Keep this up until you have all the issues on the table and re-prioritize them as often as needed.  The president’s new iPad may not be important to our prospect, but it could be very important to him, and helpful in justifying increased funding for the project.

Chapter 16: How To Qualify A Prospect By Confirming Their Business Case

In Chapter 15, we discussed the five phases of a Client Centric Sale.  If you have in the past tried some of the more popular multi-step sales program, you might be a bit leery of yet another.  I don’t blame you – I’m skeptical of these “one size fits all” approaches as well.  Every aspect of the Client Centric Sales methodology may not work for everyone or every industry, but there is enough useful information in this series that you should be able to customize it to suit your own unique requirements.

While not all phases need to be taken in any particular order, I have found that the order outlined below, if the situation allows, is the best way to begin.  As a review, they are:

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

The purpose of these phases is not to create a solution, but to solve a problem. You will need to be careful and not get absorbed with your own solution at this point.  It is difficult for salespeople to enter a prospect’s office and not have a preconceived notion of what they need.  Your prospect may even be telling you exactly what they think they need.  Please reread Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 for background on these troublesome assumptions and how you should treat them.

We are going to explore Confirm the Business Case first.  This phase includes both the salesperson and the prospect examining the problems to be solved, creating an agreement on terms, eliminating assumptions, and verifying that a solution exists.  We then conclude this phase after we jointly understand the impact that our solution will have on the prospect’s business, both the positive impact and the negative impact.

Don’t talk about your solution; instead listen for the REAL problems

It has become very fashionable these days to talk about solutions.  I keep hearing salespeople saying variations of “Mr. Customer, I don’t want to sell you a product; I want to sell you a solution.”  But a solution doesn’t mean anything unless it is applied to a real problem and creates some kind of ROI.   That’s why it is so important to have a full understanding of your prospect’s problems.  Even if you can control your own predisposed inclination to talk about the great solution you can offer, your prospect will be pushing you to do so.  Resist this with all your strength.  Solutions are a dime a dozen; the value you bring to your prospect is the experience and integrity that you apply to clearly understand the problems facing them.

How do you keep the conversation focused on understanding a prospect’s problems?  I have found the best way is to take each statement they make and turn it into a question that asks about problems, results, or issues.  Let’s use the example of a Visitor Management System, or VMS.  If a prospect were to ask you to sell them a VMS (a system which manages all aspects of a non-employee’s visit to a facility, including a temporary photo ID, safety briefing, NDA signatures, mandatory escort, etc.), you could answer in several ways:

  • “A Visitor Management System, or VMS, means different things to different people.  What does that term mean to you?”  (define terms)
  • “What kinds of problems are you experiencing by not having the right kind of VMS in place now?”  (define problems)
  • “What kind of results would the perfect VMS give you that you aren’t getting today?” (define results)
  • “What kind of issues are you trying to address by installing a VMS?”  (define issues)

Each of these questions helps to understand the core problems our prospect is experiencing, the results they are hoping to achieve (and thus the scorecard that will be used to measure us), and the issues that they are facing.  This process of question and answer will help you to continue the important task of continuously qualifying your prospect.  We all know that sales is about addressing the pain/gain issue.  If their problems aren’t big enough or real enough, no product or service will be a good solution for them, so never stop qualifying.

As you work through this process, focus on developing your questions so that they continuously clarify your prospect’s problems, desired results, or existing issues.  Every time a solution pops into your head, adamantly push it right back out.  This is not the time to jump into features and benefits.  An independent consultant gets all the issues on the table before trying to find a solution.  If you are to be a trusted advisor and consultant to your prospect, you will need to act in the same way.

Chapter 12: Why A “Maybe” Should Force You To Requalify Your Prospect

You are itching to write that proposal.

You know you are. All those glorious charts and graphs, just burning a hole in your hard drive. The hours spent drawing the mother of all org charts, topped off with the finest writing you’ve ever cut and pasted from Wikipedia and your previous proposals. You’re so clever, you brilliantly copied a low-rez, pixelated logo from your prospect’s website and pasted it on the front cover.

Yeah, yeah, me too. I eventually learned from my mistakes, and called this kind of effort my “rush to mediocracy.”

So let’s slow down a bit and do a quick review of the work you’ve done so far. You’ve become an expert in your prospect’s industry and company (Chapter 3), you’ve managed to to meet the right people at the prospect’s company to establish trust (Chapter 7) and further explore their real needs with tough questions, all the while keeping in mind (and in check) the assumptions that both sides of the table may have (Chapter 8 and Chapter 9). You’ve sorted out all the Yes and No answers to your satisfaction (Chapter 11).

Don’t start writing that proposal yet..now its time for the hard work.

Wait, wasn’t it hard already? Yes, it was hard in the same way that prepping the room before painting it is hard. But prepping a room (or prospect) is very straightforward, as long as you follow a process. If you follow the process detailed out in the first 11 chapters you will have completed the very important prep work. The tough old grizzled sales veterans know that the real work starts when it is time to figure out what to do with all of the “Maybe” answers to your questions.

Maybe might seem self-evident when used to describe the give and take of yes and no questions and answers. But there are lots of other kinds of Maybe out there. Depending on the era of business book you have read in the past, these Maybes have been called inflection points, road blocks, paradigms, yellow lights, and a host of other names. What they all come to mean to us is a warning sign that will require us to dig deeper with more questions, change our strategy, or requalify our prospect before moving forward.

An obvious Maybe is a vague answer to the question, “Does this project have a budget?” Other Maybes may be a little harder to address, such as vague answers to questions such as, “Who from your company will be making the final purchasing decision?” or “What are the factors that will make up your score card when it comes time to award the project?” In those cases, the truth might be that the prospect does not really know the answers. Perhaps he thinks he gave you a correct answer, but his answer could be right, wrong, vague, or incomplete. That little voice deep inside you, the one who has become more vocal as you become a more experienced salesperson, is quietly gnawing at you that things aren’t quite right.

Listen to that voice!

You may be tempted to move ahead, belittling those doubts about the budget, the competition, the specification, the timeframe, or even your own company’s ability to do the job well. What that soft but persistent voice is telling you is to slow down and reevaluate things. It is time to re-qualify your prospect by asking yourself some important questions.

elephant in the roomIs the existing supplier well entrenched in the prospect’s organization? Do I fully understand not just the specification being used, but the full intent of the solution? Is there an ROI angle that will ultimately grab the attention of the C-Suite? Can a lack of clarity on the specification work to my advantage by putting me in a position to develop a deeper dialog with my prospect? Are these Maybes obvious to everyone working on the project, but nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room?

These examples of potential problems are very common in any large, complex, or technical sales. Most of us breeze right by them, hoping that they won’t get in the way of the sale. But according to author Rick Page, a guru of complex sales, hope is not a strategy. There are, however, tactics that can help you reevaluate these warning signs, dig a little deeper, ask even more tough questions, and then determine if you should continue with this prospect or cut your losses and start on another.

One of the most difficult situations for any salesperson is trying to unseat an incumbent service or product supplier. There are no shortages of Maybes in this situation. It is not easy to wedge your way into a longterm, stable relationship when you have only promises to offer. In Chapter 13, we’ll look at this situation in greater detail, and introduce a tactic that I and others have used with great success to get our foot in the door.

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 10: Are You Afraid To Ask About Their Budget?

Of course you are.  Well, maybe afraid is the wrong word.  Maybe apprehensive is a better word.  Or cautious.  Maybe we can just keep thinking up words so we run out of time and can’t ask our prospect all those squishy questions about his budget.

Why is it so difficult to ask our prospect questions about the project’s budget?

Talking about money, in any kind discussion, business or otherwise, tends to make us feel very uncomfortable.  But not having an understanding of the budget can lead to false assumptions (see Chapter 8 and Chapter 9) and waste both your and your prospect’s time. It is important to realize that the budget needs to be discussed up front and early.

Early in my sales career, I was so excited to be talking to an interested prospect that I forged ahead at full speed, asking about everything except the budget.  “I better not ask about money at this point,” I reasoned to myself.  “She’ll be so impressed with my proposal that it won’t matter what what my competitors price is.”

Let’s look at the assumptions I typically made.  Besides the 13 (yes, 13!) assumptions discussed in the previous two chapters, I typically increased the odds against myself by assuming that:  1, there was a budget;  2, there was a budget with enough funds for the project;  3, there were more funds than I was assuming;  4, project funding was only coming from one budget…and so on and so on.

Did unspoken budget questions stop me?

It didn’t even slow me down.  Many hours, and then many more would go into my glorious proposals.  Company history, corporate organization charts, staff backgrounds, charts, graphs, drawings, all printed out and bound into an inch thick booklet, dripping with fresh ink – customers were impressed with the sheer weight, if not the content.

As I would thump the proposal down on my prospects desk, all those assumptions would rear their ugly heads.  Bypassing all that carefully crafted prose, those detailed charts and graphs, and going straight to the last page with the pricing, I would hear one of two things:

“Wow.  This is way over our budget.”

or

“Wow.  This is way cheaper than I thought.”

Neither of those statements is what a salesperson wants to hear.  Not once did I hear, “Wow.  This price is exactly what I expected.”  Sadly, this problem is typical with not only most junior salespeople, but with quite a few senior salespeople as well.

It may be uncomfortable for you to ask questions about their budget, but if you have established trust (Chapter 7) and expertise (Chapter 3), you can accomplish this in a way that is acceptable to your prospect and furthers the sales and qualification process.

This is an important part of any business-to-business sale, and it is critical to any large, complex, or technical sale.  We will be spending quite a bit of time honing in on tactics to enable a mutually beneficial discussion on budgets and assumptions.  Otherwise, you are wasting time, killing trees, and annoying your boss.

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 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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