Chapter 23: Turning Soft Data Into Hard Data (And Ultimately Into Impact)

Soft data funnelUp to this point we have been discussing how to measure problems, how to define problems, how to determine what a favorable end result would be, what the value of that end result would be, and what that value would be over time. In Chapter 22: Turning Financial Analysis Into A Value Discussion, we took some very simple round numbers from Hard Data and had a discussion with our client to hopefully create an understanding that there is a problem worthy of a cost-effective solution. Ready to sell now? Hold on – there is another type of data that we need to talk about:  Soft Data.

Soft Data is by nature hard to quantify and put into a measurable ROI. If your customer wants to increase security in their building, create an environment that attracts better employees, elevate their position in the marketplace, or foster better teamwork, you are going to have a hard time turning this type of general statement into actionable data. While it will always be more difficult to uncover and quantify Soft Data and how it affects the problems and potential solution, there are ways to increase the clarity of the situation.

We all have heard, simply put, that customers buy to either increase the good or decrease the bad. Sometimes a solution will address just one of these, but more often it will impact both good and bad issues (for example, an exercise program will increase your fitness and decrease your weight). For our purposes here, let’s look at these as two distinct situations.

If your prospect is focusing on increasing good things, you will most likely hear phrases from them that talk about the goals, objectives, accomplishments, targets, or improvements that they desire to obtain. For example, they may say that they want to improve the security in their employee parking garage. How do you measure that to create an ROI? It starts with a series of questions:

  • “If you improved security in the employee parking garage, what would that do?” (It would make our employees feel safer when they work late and have to walk to their cars in the dark)
  • “If they worked late but felt safer when walking to their cars, how would that affect your business?” (Some of our high priority projects are in danger of slipping, and we need people to work longer hours to catch up…if they felt safer walking to their cars at night, they would be more likely to work later)
  • “And if those employees worked later more often, what would the impact be on those high priority projects?” (We would complete those projects on time and we would bring in an extra $XXX dollars over YYY months into the company)

A bit simplistic? Of course, but it illustrates the process of turning Soft Data into Hard Data and ultimately into Impact. What if your prospect is focusing on decreasing bad things? If so, you will most likely hear phrases from them that talk about pain points, concerns, margin slippage, process roadblocks, or work silos that they want to diminish. While it can be difficult to get a prospect to fully unveil all of their pain points, once they are discussed, these are usually easier to measure. Let’s use the same example, except this time the prospect is saying their problem is that people are unable to work late to finish some important projects:

  • “Why don’t your employees want to work late?”  (We had some cars broken into at our employee parking garage, and now people don’t want to be in the garage when it’s late, dark, or when they are alone)
  • “Did they work late in the past, and did they feel safe then?”  (Yes, we never had a problem with employees working late until we had the car break-ins)
  • “What will it cost the company if you don’t finish these important projects?”  (It will cost us $XXX dollars over YYY months)
  • “What else could happen if the employees don’t feel safe?”  (Morale will decrease because employees will feel management doesn’t care about their safety, and ultimately, we could get sued if an employee were attacked in the garage)

This line of questioning could go on, uncovering both Hard Data (those $XXX dollars over YYY months that have a financial impact) and Soft Data (decreased morale, potential for a lawsuit, difficulty in recruiting new employees, etc.). The point is that much of the data that you thought would be hard to quantify is really an issue of your ability to drill down with a series of questions that will turn that Soft Data into Hard Data, and ultimately into Impact. The goal of course is to walk down this path of discovery with your prospect, unearthing different types of data, quantifying it as best as you can, and then helping your prospect understand the problem. A side benefit is that this process will help your prospect explain these findings to his or her colleagues who may become a part of the final decision of moving forward with your solution.

What if you uncover issues that just can’t be quantified? We’ll cover that next in Chapter 24.

 

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Chapter 1: Why the World Hates Salespeople (and Why they Should)

Wouldn’t it be great if your prospect gave you a checklist to complete, and if you followed that checklist, they would buy from you?  Of course it would – what fool wouldn’t follow a set of directions handed to them by the person who writes the check?  And yet it happened to me this week. Six times.  And all I was trying to do was buy a new car.

That’s right.  I was dealing with one of the most despised creatures on earth:  the car salesperson.

The checklist was simple.  It gave the exact make and model, the options I wanted, and the color.  In addition, I explained that I would not be paying for any other factory options or dealer ad-ons like floor mats.  If they didn’t have the exact car I wanted or couldn’t get it, they could hit the magic delete button on my e-mail.  All I asked for was the price of the car, the monthly lease fee, and all the other nickel and dime things up front before I stepped in the dealer’s showroom.  I wanted the paperwork all done through e-mail before I picked up the car, and wanted to spend no more than 45 minutes in the showroom the day I took delivery, no test drive needed.  Nowhere did I say I would choose a car based on price.  Simple, right?

Well, no.

All six dealers sent me form letter e-mails, inviting me come in for a chat, look at the colors and options, discuss my budget, and take a test drive or two.  So with all of my “buying signals” given to them in writing, how is it that six different companies blew a sure thing sale?  Professional salespeople attend expensive week long seminars to learn how to detect these buying signals.  Senior level sales professionals are paid more than junior level sales professionals because they have decades of experience which enable them to pick up on these barely visible signs that buyers try to hide.

Is there a more dysfunctional selling paradigm than that of the automobile sale?

Doubtful.

And yet I see variations of this every day, from the simple consumer electronics gadget sale to the multi-million dollar global IT system sale.  Why is this?  Why are so many salespeople so bad?

Maybe that is an unfair questions, but not because most salespeople are good.  It is an unfair question because half of the blame resides with the customer.  That’s right.  The guy on the other side of the table, the one with the checkbook, the furrowed browed guy who keeps looking at the price page of your proposal?  Yes, that guy.  He has been taught by you and dozens of your peers over the years that he needs to protect his company against you and your ilk, because he thinks that you’re out for yourself, trying to charge as high a price as possible, and will then head off to your condo in Maui for two weeks and ignore his phone calls.

Is it the buyer’s fault that they see salespeople as adversaries instead of partners?  I don’t think so.  But there is a better way forward for salespeople.  If you choose your prospects and clients carefully, if you can develop a relationship to the level where they are willing to learn from you why your product or service is the best overall value, and you can then have them bring you up through their company to the decision makers, then you can dramatically improve your sales and waste far less time.

This is not hard stuff.  I’ve been successful selling this way for decades, and I’m as lazy as a salesman can get.  Maximum results for minimum effort is my goal.  I have taught these skills around the world in various formats, from two day crash courses to week long full immersion courses.  You can get the same information right here (minus the important student interaction portions, unfortunately) on this blog.  So go ahead and bookmark this page and come back to it for the next chapter at least once a week.  I’ll do my best to make it worth your while.

And the car fiasco?  Finally, one dealership figured out how I wanted to buy, followed my format, and sold me the car.  He wasn’t the cheapest, but he made it the easiest for me, and with this purchase, that is what I was looking for.

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