As I shared in my post last Monday: Stop Selling! If you’re selling you’re doing something wrong.
Whenever I share this insight, it’s always greeted with agreement…and frustration. People shrug their shoulders and ask, “I get that I shouldn’t do this, but what should I do?”
Solving The Seller’s Paradox requires that you fully and completely leave the world of the peddler. You must let go of your products and services, your features and benefits and engage – truly engage – with your prospects/customers. You must embrace a diagnostic approach.
The basis of this approach is rooted with what I call The Three Sale Mindset™. A successful sale is really the culmination of three distinct “sales.” They are:
- Agreement defining the problem.
- Agreement defining the best solution.
- Agreement defining the best provider.
The problem with traditional sales (and with about 95% of salespeople) is that they’re completely programmed and focused on making sale three, and as a result skip steps, assume and commoditize.
Diagnosis is all about focusing on the first sale, and realizing that you don’t really have a prospect until you have clearly and mutually agreed on what the problem is, the impact of the problem as well as its priority.
There are three distinct decisions that must be reached in The First Sale™:
- I (the prospect/customer) have a problem.
- A clear definition/description as to what the problem is and the underlying cause.
- Determination that the status quo is no longer viable, and that change must occur.
It is critical to understand that The First Sale has not been made until all three points have been met. It is not at all unusual (actually, it’s the norm) that salespeople move forward when only the first and third points are being communicated.
When a prospect/customer reaches out to you claiming to acknowledge a problem and desiring a solution, if you assume that they either a) understand what their problem really is, or b) are truly committed to solving the problem once they learn everything that is involved you are moving into false positive territory – and you’re peddling!
When you slow it down and spend the necessary time to ensure that all three points are covered, you’ll find you move beyond competition and begin to get treated like the trusted resource your should be. Focus on The First Sale, and you’ll see the next two move through faster than ever.
One of the toughest behaviors to change when salespeople are working to transform from being peddler to becoming Demand Creator, is the relationship they have with their pipeline.
Having been taught (consciously or otherwise) that sales is a numbers game, peddlers always feel better when the pipeline has more opportunities in it. As salespeople move up the value chain, they gain an understanding that the quality of an opportunity is far more important than the quantity.
This leads to a pipeline that feels weaker, and it increases the fears associated with the the necessary change in behavior and mindset. While the pipeline is actually becoming stronger, it doesn’t feel that way..
In 20+ years working with salespeople and sales management, I’ve learned that there’s little reality in most pipelines. While there may be many “opportunities” listed, few of those opportunities are real. A couple of years ago we conducted a comprehensive pipeline review with a new client’s sales team. The review started with 59 opportunities from 4 salespeople.
When we were done we discovered that 5 were bona fide opportunities, 7 had little to no chance of closing despite the fact that the company was about to invest several thousand dollars of man hours and expenses to prototype a solution, in 33 of them the sales rep was clearly talking to the wrong person and the rest were no better than a lead you could get from a newspaper.
The focus on quantity in the pipeline leads to several bad behaviors, such as:
- A lot of valuable time is wasted chasing the wrong opportunities or even the right opportunities, but with the wrong people.
- Reps lack the time to adequately invest in the right opportunities and places to build the business case and move beyond price.
- Pipeline reports become jokes within management circles, and businesses (especially small and mid-sized businesses) lack the critical intelligence needed to accurately assess their position and make adjustments in a timely and effective manner.
- An urgency mindset, instead of an importance mindset, is built; preventing salespeople and organizations from making the necessary changes to control their destiny.
Demand Creators firmly believe that all progress and growth begins with an honest picture of reality. They realize that focusing on fewer, high quality opportunities is the key to standing out and escaping commoditization.
Making the transition from a pipeline with lots of names on it to one with fewer can be quite scary, and it’s necessary to achieve the effortless growth you desire.
Monday, I discussed two grave mistakes made when small and mid-market companies hire sales and marketing people. If The Wall Street Journal is to be believed, more small businesses are planning to hire in the next six months than those that aren’t; and the sales and marketing is the focus for 50% of those firms.
Given the size of firms that were surveyed (under $5 million) I’m certain that many of these firms will attempting to do the single, toughest thing in business – hiring the first salesperson. As I shared Monday, hiring any salesperson is difficult, but hiring the first salesperson in a company borders on the impossible.
Going from an entrepreneur/leader led sales effort to a salesperson led effort is a HUGE shift for any company, and it is ALWAYS underestimated. I often advise clients hiring a first salesperson that they may need to expect to go through 3 hires to get it right.
The reason hiring a first salesperson is so difficult is actually quite simple. Solving the problem is a bit more complicated.
When you hire a salesperson, the sales process paradoxically fails to create value. When led by a principle or services provider (a la accounting, law, engineering, etc.) the “seller” is constantly creating value. They’re not “selling” in the traditional sense. They’re probing, solving problems, enlightening the customer about what is possible. Sure, they violate 90% of the rules of selling, but they create value.
When a salesperson is hired, they stop creating value and instead communicate value. The process becomes a series of “we-do’s.”
The problem is that even when the salesperson is saying the exact same things that the non-salesperson was saying – they’re not saying the same thing. The non-salesperson was constantly diagnosing and designing, while the salesperson is constantly telling. The non-salesperson (accidentally or on-purpose) was problem focused, the salesperson is solutions focused.
Now you can’t blame the salesperson most of the time, because the only training the salesperson gets from a company is about the solution. They’re told stories, talk to successful customers and study all of the wonderful things the company does. Little to know time is spent on understanding the customers problems better than the customer understand their own problems. There’s no diagnostic sales training teaching and supporting the salesperson’s ability to dig deeper with the customer.
A successful salesperson brings a critical capability and focus to a company. They don’t have the expertise of the founder, the leaders or the subject matter experts. So they need a process that ensures they create value throughout the entire sales process. They must be trained to understand – diagnose – the critical few problems that your company solves. They must be supported by a marketing effort that supports that message and provokes the customer.
Merely hiring a salesperson and sending them into the field is not a recipe for growth. Hiring a salesperson is a defining moment for any company – and it must be treated as such.
If you are hiring salespeople in the near future, you can download Avoiding The 10 Critical Hiring Mistakes When Hiring Salespeople.
The biggest sales mistake B2B salesforces make is focusing on process when they should be selling results, or vice versa.
There are two types of people in every corporation:
- Process Owners
- Result Owners
80-90% of people in a company are what I refer to as “Process Owners.” This simply means they “own” a series of tasks designed to manage and improve upon the status quo. These people tend to carry functional title like: HR, Operations, Logistics, Procurement, etc.
These are your status quo buyers. When you are selling to them, you must focus on making what they are already doing easier, faster, cheaper (with an emphasis on easier).
Results Owners are responsible for guiding the business. They own P & L’s. They’re looking for new advantages, or better/new ways to exploit their existing advantages. Where status quo buyers live in the present (or past), Results Owners live in the future. These are the buyers that are open to change.
If your message or sales approach is focused on your solution, the context of your conversation will almost always be process oriented. If that’s the case, then you need to be selling easier, faster, cheaper process. You can’t sell results to a Process Owner – they don’t live with results problems, so they won’t value results solutions.
It is equally bad to focus on process (solution) with a Results Owner. If you do, they’ll send you to the Process Owner, giving no authority along the way. Remember, if the Results Owner understood the need for your solution – they would have implemented it.
When selling to the Results Owner, you must:
- Focus on the result.
- Demonstrate a critical gap/barrier to attaining that result.
- Demonstrate that the status quo is no longer viable.
- Implement a process to manage the change you are proposing.
By doing this, you will be able to demonstrate right-side value and avoid being commoditized.
I’ve been spending a lot of time working with clients to build out diagnostic systems to create value and create demand. I recently referred one of my clients to a blog post I wrote almost 5 years ago. I thought it was valuable enough to share again.
My experience working with fast-growth companies has taught me that there are three levels of value that a company can provide:
- Level one occurs when you provide people with the knowledge of ‘what’ needs to be done.
- Level two occurs when you provide the knowledge of ‘how’ to do it.
- Level three (execution) occurs when whatever needs to get done actually gets done.
Level one is all about diagnosis. Today, too many companies hold back level one value, fearing that if prospects know what needs to be done, they’ll go out an try to do it themselves or to do it cheaper. The reverse is actually true. Give the ‘what’ away. The more people know what to do, the more value your company’s knowledge of ‘how’ to do it becomes.
When prospects don’t know the ‘what’, they self diagnose; and when that happens, you are, and should be, just a commodity. So, stop “protecting’ your intellectual capital so fiercely. Start giving it away and fast growth is yours.