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Customers Obsess Over Threats and Gloss Over Opportunities

Sales people are looking for love (sales) in all the wrong places. Instead, they should be looking for problems in all the right places. One's solution has value only in direct proportion to the problem it is solving. Sales people should transition from solution-based selling to problem-based selling; identifying and assessing the net worth of customer's problems.

Your defining moment in a sales call is when your customer defines their problem, not when you take the podium to tout your solution. The irony is sales people have always been taught to to hit the customer's hot button. Yet they do the inverse; they concentrate on hitting their own hot buttons, while leaving the customer's needs out in the frigid cold. In our narcissistic society where looking out for number one is the rule rather than the exception, savy sales people know that the customer's most pressing issues are job number one; what is not right, what is wrong, what is not working, what is lacking, and what is falling short of expectations.

Expectation is the mother of all anxiety. Establish what your customer's expectations are for their business, and work backwards to isolate the gaps, shortcomings, and their insecurities of not reaching their objectives. The majority of garden variety sales people immediately begin to work forward towards a resolution without really knowing what they are resolving. Bottom up selling which is very customer-centered will consistently run circles around top down selling which is very impersonal and company-centered.

When you overvalue your solution you tend to undervalue your customer's threats, putting you in harms way of being devalued as a sales person and a redundant middleman. In the digital economy no person or thing is more at risk than the middleman. Technology is proving in many cases to be the perfect mechanism to throw out the middleman...just ask all the former middlemen of Walmart. Sales people have one asset left that technology cannot duplicate; hands on tools to personally and impartially analyze threats and their consequences. Unfortuately, this is a tool few peddlers have in their tool box.

You take all the mystique, ra ra, and false cheer out of selling when you know it all boils down to your ability to have insightful inquiries that are viewed with credibility about customer's unmet goals. As the new saying goes: it is all about the problem ...stupid. Really not much more is important. Well trust also, obviously. Without it nothing happens efficiently.

What if sales people were as deeply passionate about their customer's most pressing challenges, as they were about their own self-interest. No one would have to meddle thru this book, and I would summarily be out of a profession. Fortunately for me I am virtually guaranteed foolproof employment because of the sales profession's unwillingness to just get out of their own way (ego). Over eagerness and enthusiasm as we commonly see them in sales cannot co-exist with problem-centered selling. They make for incompatible bedfellows. One implies the absence of the other.

Do you know how gifted and over the top talented one has to be to consistently sell customers who do not have a business problem. Without the trigger of insecurity action rarely happens. If customers do not have problems, then you are their newest problem.

A happy prospect will not make for a happy sales person. Mainline sales people work so hard to get to a customer, and if they are content and happy that is just an extra bonus, because they can feed off all that positive energy. Unfortunately, they miss the whole point of modern day selling. What they should aim for is to find an unhappy customer who is more than happy to discuss their frustrations and most pressing challenges.

For the faint of heart, the perceived negative energy this might produce is believed to be toxic and possibly put a damper on their rosy solution. Stepping back for a somber reflection of the customer's problem, instead of a fast leap forward to an exciting description of their package of hope is not what most people signed up for when they entered the profession to take advantage of their charm and oratory skills. I had one seminar participant despair at my sales model because she believed it was her duty and destiny to bring hope to her prospects in one of the hardest hit depressed regions in the country. My sales strategy was an anathema to her because she could not traffic in excitement, ra ra and enthusiasm that she believed her customers needed.

Threats get on the front page of the news, not opportunities. Customers will obsess over threats and gloss over opportunities. Threats will trigger fear and insecurity. Fear is the engine of action. This is where sales people come in to help customers determine if their problem is worth acting upon due to other treats that might be more pressing. You should be the voice of reality and reason in helping them sort out their issues and potential conflicts of interest. Apple stores have been a ragging success in part because their sales people have been instructed to not sell, but to only find and fix problems.

Problem-centered sales people know that their product information is beside the point, it proves very little in the grand scheme of things. They are restrained with their information, not because they want to protect anything or withhold anything, it just points the conversation in the wrong direction to the detriment of both parties by focusing on solutions and not where the real action is...problems. Remember, you will not find many high value customers who do not want to primarily talk about problems. Whereas, you will find a bevy of bottom feeder prospects who have no interest in talking about problems. So if you truly think you are in a commodity business you better get happy and content with dealing with commodity shoppers and perpetual tire kickers.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com