This is the most skilled aspect within solution selling. In many cases when products or service are required to be actively sold, the most successful and consistent sales people will have the skills and behavioural competence to position what they offer against the identified needs and challenges the customer faces.
The difficulty is the way this is conducted during a sales meeting as part of the solution sales process. Thinking of the way you or your team members currently sell, how many times do you try to convince the customer of your products and hope they will buy, without fully understanding what they really need and why? This invariably leads to lost opportunities and often there is a lack of appreciation why, and the same process is repeated with the hope that at least some customers may purchase from you.
If you have read the Clemorton blog which includes “Setting a verbal agenda”. You will know we have already positioned the customer to agree to being asked some questions to identify their needs and challenges. Now is the time to commence this process to gain a full understanding of the customer’s situation, pain points and needs.
The core skills of effective communication will be critical to achieve a successful needs analysis and include;
- the ability to empathise where necessary with the customer, their situation and that of their organisation
- the skills to use appropriate probing questions in a cascading manner
- the ability and self-awareness to listen actively, observing any relevant non-verbal behaviour of the customer to get a full understanding of what the customer is saying and ultimately the buying motives for each point raised as an issue
The starting point is to ask something along the lines of, “What are the main issues and challenges you are currently facing”?
If you have thus far built a good relationship and trust with the customer, they will typical have no problem telling you, as we have already stated in the verbal agenda that we will only look at providing solutions once we understand the situation fully.
There will often be several issues that are stated and it is important to note them down as headers – horizontally in order, across your notes page (think of horizontal as getting all the issues out top-line wise first and vertically as drilling into the issues).
A common mistake that is made is that sales people jump on the first thing they see as an opportunity to sell to, and lose out on other problems/issues/pain points that give them more opportunities to solve problems and position product and services accordingly.
In essence sales people by nature are tempted into drilling vertically into the first issue too quickly as they are problem solvers and follow opportunities through gut instinct.
Our advice is resisting the temptation and get out all of the issues first – go horizontal. Only then can you start to explore each point in depth and move to a vertical approach. There is an added benefit in doing this as the order that the customer verbalises the problems is usually in priority order that they want help to solve these issues – giving you a roadmap of where the larger and more pressing opportunities lie?
As an example the customer sights outdated infrastructure as a key problem?
You then ask a series of cascaded probing questions such as, what is this causing, how often, what does this affect, what’s the cost implications of constant breakdowns, how much time and resource does this take up etc.
The questions you ask are cascaded from the responses that you get, as all the time the customer will be visualising and verbalising their pain points. When you have a full picture of the situation, ask what is the consequence or impact of this continuing?
This will give you the true buying motive and what your product or service will ultimately need to resolve.
A common response by the sales person is; “brilliant, great, terrific” etc. as we see this as a great opportunity. Stop right there! Do not say these things even though you are feeling them.
Expect a negative reaction from the customer if you do, as this is typically a major concern to them – something that is causing them anguish, pain, frustration, annoyance and more work.
This is instead the time to display empathy and state something like, “I can only imagine the difficulty this is causing you, and we will really look at the best solution later to address this for you”.
Take each issue stated in order that the customer told you and repeat the process until addressed.
Don’t be surprised for more issues to come out as the customer is really starting to think hard, and sees you as someone trying to help not just sell.
Remember, you have not attempted to push any products as yet, but rather simply understand their issues with the sole focus being them, the customer. True customer centric behaviour.
Ask one final question to check there is nothing else they would like to bring up? If the answer is no, thank them for their openness and state that will be useful information to consider the most appropriate overall solution.
Imagine now the amount of information you have to select the most suitable products and services that match the needs of the customer. It also gives us a chance to use the customers own words as a powerful motivator to make decisions and accept proposals that solve the very issues and pain points that they have opened up about.
This is much more effective than direct selling where we assume the customer wants what we have, where the focus is on what we want; as opposed to the customer’s interest.
Having used a solution based process for over 25 years and also teaching others how to do it, Clemorton can help support your sales growth and team performance.
If you would like to speak to us, you will not be surprised to hear that we want to fully understand your key challenges before offering you a tailored solution.