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 5: Three Ways to Fail During a Sales Presentation

What happens when a client can’t properly articulate his or her company’s needs?

That’s easy.  We do what most salespeople love to do…we TALK. Oh, how we love the sounds of our own voices. We interrupt our clients so that we can finish making our point. We keep talking after they have told us they want to buy from us, because we’re not done with our sales pitch.

For example, I needed two tablet PCs to use as part of a major presentation to a Fortune 50 company. The choice of tablet PC was easy, as the prospect had a key relationship with one of the tablet PC makers. With no research to do, I walked into the store and said, “I’d like to buy two of those tablet PCs.” The correct answer? “Yes sir, here you go.”

What answer did I get? “You know, those have dual-core processors.” Now this might seem like a minor sales transgression, but if I had more time on my hands, I would have said, “Oh, in that case, I don’t want them” and walked out of the store and into another. But I stayed, and endured hearing about all the technical features that this tablet PC had, the cool apps you could get for it, and so on. He committed one of the most terrible sins of all sales sins:  he kept pitching after he had the sale, potentially talking me out of the sale.

In your sales world, what else is wrong with going through your rehearsed presentation? Instead of working to understand your prospect, are you just telling them what to do? Without a back and forth discussion, you risk a one-sided solution, potentially resulting in a lack of buy-in from your prospect. If the project fails, guess who will get the blame? Besides appearing arrogant, your force-fed presentation may keep you from learning about other problems that your company could solve.

When is not okay to take the money and run?

What if the client knows exactly what they want (like me when I bought the tablet PCs)? If you are going to have a long term relationship with this client, then you risk that they are wrong when they tell you what they want to buy. Again, guess who gets the blame? There are other problems, however. If we haven’t added any value to the transaction, then we have just entered the dreaded world of commodity sales. And if we haven’t established a base dialog on the prospect’s issues, we will never understand the root causes of the problems they face, and once again we won’t be able to solve any additional problems they may have.

The only thing worse than these two sales transgressions is what I see over and over again – guessing. Of course, we don’t call it guessing at all. We have a short meeting, form opinions, declare that the problem can be solved with the product or service that we just happen to sell, and then formalize this mass of guessing into a glorious, search-and-replace, cut-and-paste rehashed document called a proposal. The thicker the better.

I’m betting that the majority of the client interactions done in the world of large, technical, or complex sales fall into one of the above three categories. Is there a better way? Perhaps a way that keeps us from wasting our time and increases the odds that the prospect will become a long-term, profitable client who values our wisdom and expertise so much that they become the gatekeeper who excludes our competitors from knocking on their door?

There is a way that has served me and others well over the years. In Chapter 6, “Partnering With Your Prospect,” I will give you an overview of this alternate way of doing business with your clients.

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