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 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.

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