Selling is all about connecting the dots
Geplaatst op 8 januari 2018 door Ronald Swensson

This post is part three about Insight Selling. Part one describes the changing landscape of buying and selling and why sales reps who bring valuable insights and ideas to buyers, win more sales. Part two is addressing additional skills needed for sales professionals in a changing sales landscape. This post is about connecting the dots between buyer needs and seller solutions. Think of a ‘normal’ selling concept: diagnosing and connecting the needs, requirement and pains with the gains or values of the product, services and overall capabilities of the company. In our Sales Skills Monitor - an ongoing research project that measures the competence level of Dutch B2B-sales reps - we found that while this concept is still alive and necessary today, it has changed in three very important ways:

1. Understanding versus diagnosing. In a ‘normal’ selling concept the emphasis is strongly on diagnosing the buyer. In our research project we looked at what winners do differently than second-place finishers. Of all the factors we studied, winners deepened the understanding of the customers’ needs. Second-place finishers actually focused more on diagnosis than the winners, yet they still lost. In fact, winners demonstrated they understood the buyers’ needs 2.5 times more often than second-place finishers. So fundamentally, sellers need to shift from diagnosing needs to demonstrating an understanding of needs. Addressing the buyers’ needs requires hard skills such as divergent thinking, insights and business acumen (see part two). 

2. Rational versus emotional. There's a long-held and promoted perception that decision makers are hyper rational and numbers oriented and that marketers and sales people need to message exclusively to their sense of reason because of it. But what if decision makers aren't as rational as you think and emotions play a bigger role than you realize? In this context, I briefly describe a fascinating theory: the Prospect theory. This theory is a behavioral economic theory that describes the way people choose between probabilistic alternatives that involve risk, where the probabilities of outcomes are known. The theory says that people are 2 to 3 times more likely to make a decision or seek a risk to avoid a loss. But does this theory also applies to decision-makers? Of all the factors we studied in our Sales Skills Monitor, we saw that winners deepen the relation on a emotional level and talk more about the pains & gains then second-place finishers. Talking more on a emotional level - including talking about the pains & gains - was not a coincidence we presumed. Recently Corporate Visions conducted an experiment that stated our presumption. The study which tested 113 executives across a variety of decision-making scenarios, found that when you frame a status quo situation in terms of loss instead of gain, 70 percent of the decision makers were willing to make the riskier choice. So as it turns out, decision makers are just as much influenced by emotions as everyone else and the Prospect theory also applies to the hyper rational and numbers oriented decision maker! 

3. Focusing on pains versus gains. SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham is one of the most intuitive books on the market for selling. SPIN Selling explains the science behind consultative selling, or rather, presenting an offer to a potential client, based systematically on the clients pain-points, using a powerful questioning process. SPIN Selling defines problem questions as the second step in the questioning process. During this step, salespeople ask about the buyer's pain. SPIN teaches that people buy when the pain of the problem is greater than the cost of the solution. While this focus on 'pain' can be useful - see the Prospect theory - it is too narrow. Problem or pain questions assume that the buyer feels the pain or recognizes the problem. But that is not always the case. Pain is most likely to be felt when buyers are responsible for internal processes that are going wrong. When this happens, people realize their pain, but they don't necessarily know the causes. Certainly, Rackham's work with Xerox Corporation in the 70s and 80s influenced his thinking here. Those who bought reproduction equipment in this timeframe were dealing with internal constraints and conflicts that caused pain. However, many buyers are not in this situation. Some buyers are looking for ways to advance their position to address their desire for gain rather than to address the pain of loss. So they may or may not have a problem they need to solve, but they always have to make choices about how to use their resources to achieve the best results. Among these choices, there is always the choice of simply doing nothing. People with ‘pain’ are motivated to make a change, but so are people who are doing well and want to do better. Seeing all buying decisions in terms of problems and pain can hide as much as it reveals. 

Let’s say the buyer doesn’t perceive anything - or anything important enough to act on -to be wrong. SPIN Sellers find themselves at a dead end. No problems to fix. Nothing to sell. So don’t just focus on the negative, but also focus on the positive - the goals, the aspirations, and possibilities. Even if the buyer doesn’t know it yet. Along with having much richer sales conversations, focusing on the positive opens the door to significant opportunity to increase sales. In our Sales Skills Monitor we saw that winners who focus on aspirations as well as afflictions are able to directly influence the buyer’s agenda by inspiring them with possibilities they hadn’t been considering, but should. 

Epilogue. Imagine for a minute that someone is selling to you and you perceive the seller doesn’t understand your needs and doesn’t craft a compelling solution. Their chances of winning business from you are probably pretty slim. Now consider that the seller demonstrates a strong understanding of your needs and crafts a compelling solution, but you perceive that they aren’t listening to you and you haven’t made any kind of personal connection with them. As long as any other seller meets the minimum criteria, you’re unlikely to buy from the unlikeable seller who isn’t listening. Yes, the landscape of buying and selling has dramatically changed but selling basics still remain the same.

This post is also published on LinkedIn.

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