By Shelley Hall, principal, Catalytic Management
Cut to TV commercial. Man is sitting at his kitchen table with a knife in front of him and a phone in his hand. You hear his doctor say, “Now make a two-inch incision just below the sternum.” The patient at the kitchen table asks, “Shouldn’t you be doing this?”
Excellent question. Shouldn’t your sales team be diagnosing your client’s problems, prescribing the correct solution, and then working with the client to implement the solution? After all, they are the experts!
Ah, I can hear you say, YES, sales teams do. We drill the sales team to conduct needs analysis as part of the selling process. We teach them that asking the customer questions about their problems is the first step in a meeting. We beat our salespeople about the head until they can recite the mantra that our solutions are unique to the prospect’s situation and that’s where our value comes in.
But is your sales team uncovering the real client issues? Or is it merely asking the client to “share your challenges”? Are your salespeople listening for what the client wants and not what the client needs? Almost every client has thought about their challenges and very likely has internally discussed a solution. The mere act of calling you or answering your call is an indication that the client has at least framed a solution and they think you have the solution. Salespeople, and through them your company, add value—real value—only when they question the client’s assumptions. The value you offer is in holding up the mirror for the client to see their real problems—to see the depth of their challenges. Human nature is such that being honest about our problems is difficult at best, and the greatest service we can provide for a prospect or client is to act as the lens through which they can filter the real from the obvious, the hard from the easy.
Differentiating your company from the competition begins when your sales team probes beyond the superficial “discovery” questions. Uncovering the underlying problems is a multi-layered questioning technique. Children are experts at getting to the root cause. How many times have you heard “But, Daddy, why is the grass green?” You reply with a correct, valid scientific answer, and their response is “But why?” Kids seemingly can go on forever with the WHY?It is this kind of probing beyond the client’s first explanation that roots out the real cause and gives the salesperson the data they need to develop lasting solutions that are unique to that prospect or client.
Now you’re saying, “Boy, she doesn’t have much respect for the intelligence of our clients. She obviously doesn’t think clients are capable of assessing their own problems.” Wrong. I have great respect for my prospects and clients and because of that I believe we owe them more than just superficial answers. They called us because we’re the experts and if we fail to share our experience and expertise, we fail them. Making the sale because you gave the prospect what they wanted is nothing to brag about. That’s easy; your competition can do that. If you make the sale because the client gained a deeper understanding of their challenges through you,on the other hand, thatissomething to brag about. Conducting conversations with prospects and clients at this higher, deeper level builds credibility, demonstrates a true customer focus, and, in the end, earns more sales.
Teach your sales people to be old-fashioned detectives. Never take anything at face value. Always look for the links between pieces of evidence. Ask the same question three different ways. The television formula for detective series, medical shows, and mysteries teach us that what seems obvious is just a ruse. The real criminal, or diagnosis, is layers deep. Salespeople add value when they add insight and perspectives the prospect or client can’t find internally.
Shelley Hall is an entrepreneur who has built, reinvented, and turned around companies for the last 20 years. As principal, managing director of Catalytic Management, Hall delivers consulting that accelerates business growth through sales effectiveness, customer loyalty, and process improvement. For more information, visit www.catalyticmanagement.com.