One of the key principles that should underpin your B2B marketer’s mindset is that your marketing messages – and your sales conversations – need to lead towards your solution rather than with your solution.
The obvious conclusion is that both your marketing messages and your sales conversations need to “sell the problem before you sell your solution” – it’s a matter of leading the prospect through the critical sequence: Why change? – Why now? – Why us?
Suppressing the itch to pitch
Sales people (and marketers) often get this intellectually, but then stumble when putting it into practice. They manage to get the customer engaged in wanting to address an issue, and then irrational exuberance causes them to leap straight into pitching their solution.
This might work in a low-cost, single-conversation transactional sale, but it is the worst thing they could possibly do in a complex, considered purchase sales environment that involves multiple stakeholders and months of engagement.
Getting stuck with the status quo
It’s one of the key reasons why apparently well qualified opportunities – into which a great deal of sales effort has been invested – all-too-often end up with the prospect deciding to do nothing and sticking with the status quo.
Most sales people in high value B2B considered purchase environments recognise that pitching their product or solution right at the start of the dialogue, before the prospect has even acknowledged an issue, is not a good strategy.
The premature elaboration problem
But my observations suggest that an embarrassing percentage of otherwise competent and effective sales people still suffer from premature elaboration – they get the itch to pitch their product or service too quickly and too easily the moment the prospect has acknowledged an issue.
The point at which the prospect acknowledges an issue that you know your company has a solution for is a golden moment. At that juncture, there are two paths the sales person can take the conversation down: they can choose to introduce their solution, or they can choose to develop the problem.
The illusion of progress
The first path – the premature elaboration path – may give the illusion of progress, but in reality it is simply storing up un-navigable challenges for later on in the sales cycle. Even if the sales person establishes a perfect solution fit and an impressive ROI, the deal may still never close – because the prospect does not see the problem as being important enough to accept the risks associated with change. So they do nothing.
Taking control of the conversation
The second path requires more self-discipline. Even though the sales person knows that they have a great solution for the issue they have just uncovered, they choose to keep their powder dry. Rather than succumbing to the itch to pitch, the sales person keeps digging in to the issue until they are convinced that the prospect believes that there is a compelling case for change.
This process of exploration will involve identifying the costs and consequences of the issue; it will involve understanding who else is affected, what impact it would have on them, and who will be involved in the decision to do anything, let alone to choose you.
Along the way, the sales person is likely to discover invaluable information that will either cause them to qualify bad deals out much earlier in the cycle, or build a much more compelling case not just for their solution, but for the need to change at all.
Leading towards a better outcome
The conversation will help to shape the prospect’s perspectives and decision criteria in favour of factors that will turn out to be key differentiators and advantages of your organisation’s approach to solving the problem.
And all the time, without prematurely elaborating your offer, the sales conversation will be inexorably leading towards a decision that the prospect needs to solve the problem, and that the least risk of all the options available to them is yours.
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