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 13: Can You Displace Your Competitor?

Yes is good, No is good, Maybe will kill you. We covered that in Chapter 11 and more in Chapter 12. There’s no doubt that Maybe is a dangerous word. Can you grab that marquis account from your toughest competitor?

Maybe.

If you are trying to break into an account that is currently using a competitor’s product or service, you will, sometimes despite solid assurances from your prospect to the contrary, have a very steep uphill battle before you.

But what if your product or service is clearly superior to the entrenched competitor’s product or service?  What if it is so obvious that even a casual observer to the process can see that your solution is a no-brainer?

It has always amazed me how over the years I have seen great effort expended in the pursuit of a new client, only to see it all fall apart at the end, leaving everyone scratching their heads wondering what happened. I remember one large company who was very frustrated with one of their technology suppliers. This wasn’t just a quiet grudge – high level executives flew in to justify why they should be kept on as a supplier. Promises were made, promises were broken, and the cycle repeated itself over and over.

When it was time for a major overhaul of the client’s system, many companies came knocking on the door, offering a better system at a better price. Thousands of man-hours were spent to land this Fortune 50 account, because everyone assumed (Chapter 8) that the customer had reached such a boiling point that they would finally throw out the competitor. But in the end, the client stayed with their existing supplier and system, even though they stated that they knew they would continue to have major problems.

Why would a buyer do this?  How could they justify their decision?

If you remember from our discussion of personality quadrants (Chapter 11), there are four basic personality traits, and an infinite combination of these four traits. Different people will make decisions for different reasons, but in the case of the example above, the client was a plodding administrator who chose to go with the safe decision. We have all heard the old phrase, “You can’t get fired by hiring IBM,” and even though this was a progressive global technology company, the decision to stay the course was made out of fear and uncertainty.

There's that elephant again...

There’s that elephant again…he’s not going anywhere until you address him!

Years later, after reconstructing this example, I realized that the fault was mine, not the client’s. In short, I had not qualified the prospect with a very simple question, which ultimately prevented me from setting the table properly for the sale to move forward. In this example, after building a high level of trust with my prospect, I needed to ask the most obvious question that nobody wanted to discuss:

“You have been doing business with ‘Company X’ for a while and have been happy enough to keep doing business with them. What do you need to see from me that would be so compelling that my company would have at least an even chance of winning your business?”

That wasn’t so hard, was it? And yet it took me years to learn this question, even though the answer to it would determine how (or if) I would proceed with my prospect. Let’s look at two types of answers you may receive:

“Your price needs to be lower.”

This is a Maybe. How much lower do you need to be? Why does it need to be lower? Can it be quantified, or is it just a gut feel by one person who only thinks about price instead of cost and value? If you can get this answer quantified, you will be able to move on if it is a Yes or form a strategy to deal with it if it is a No.

“You need to have a product that has been in use for five years.”

For you, this is either a Yes or No. Either is good, as it is definitive. If the answer is Yes, you can move on to other questions that will help you build your compelling case for change. If your answer is No, like the pricing example above, you can form a strategy to deal with this issue.

Often, the prospect’s scorecard is measuring irrelevant things that don’t really apply to achieving a successful solution. Asking up front what you need to do to be compelling to your prospect will help you not only form a strategy, it may help you complete your qualification process by deciding that pursuing this customer is not a good use of your time.

Walking away from a prospect is the ultimate No. But if you believe as I do, a No is good. The good news is that if you finally reach that ultimate No, you then become free to pursue a prospect that is a better fit for your product or service, instead of being stuck in the purgatory of Maybe.

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