But, that’s exactly what many salespeople attempt to do when they engage with a new prospect.
Typically, it plays out in one of two ways. Either the salesperson attempts to force his solution on the prospect (after nothing more than a cursory analysis of the situation), or he allows the prospect to dictate the solution (again, without a proper analysis of the situation).
While sales are sometimes completed under those circumstances, both are ultimately losing propositions.
Because the best solutions—solutions that yield the best results, provide the most value, and create foundations on which long-term relationships are built—are created when the prospect and salesperson collaboratively diagnose the situation and design the solution. And that only occurs when both are playing the same “game” on the appropriate playing field.
The most prevalent cause for game-field mismatch is a lack of understanding between “wants” and “needs.”
Wants are typically the outcomes prospects desire, for example, faster production throughput, larger sales volume, faster growth, and greater brand recognition. Needs are the processes, systems, strategies, policies, etc., that bring about the desired outcomes.
To complicate matters, often, the outcome a prospect thinks he wants is actually a step or two removed from what he really wants (but hasn’t yet recognized). For example, Sandler was recently approached by a national organization that wanted to know if we could teach their salespeople to do a better job of handling the objections they face during presentations. After analyzing the nature of the objections, we responded with the following: “We can teach your salespeople how to more effectively handle the objections…or we can teach them how to restructure their sales approach and eliminate ninety-nine percent of the objections before they ever get to the presentation. Which would you prefer?”
Which outcome do you suppose they chose? In that instance, “handling objections” was merely a stop-gap solution to an unnecessary problem.
If a salesperson merely sells the prospect what the prospect wants, the prospect may not get what he actually needs. He’s likely to get a short-term or superficial solution that addresses the immediate situation, but does little or nothing to address the underlying causes for the situation. Ultimately, that means an unhappy customer.
If the salesperson simply focuses on what the prospect actually needs—systems, processes, policies, etc., it’s unlikely that the prospect will readily make the connection between it and the outcome he wants. And that leads to a tougher sale and a longer selling cycle—if a sale even takes place.
It’s the salesperson’s responsibility to fully diagnose the situation before suggesting a solution, and to help the prospect make the connection between that solution (what he needs) and the outcome he wants. And that requires sufficient knowledge about the prospect’s situation, and the ability to ask thought-provoking questions to establish the connections.
Before a football team takes the field, they have studied the opponent team’s game videos so they know as much about the opponent team as the opponent team knows about itself. They know the opponent team’s strengths and weaknesses. And with that knowledge, they develop their game strategy.
When you “take the field,” you must be no less prepared. You must fully understand your prospects’ situations and know exactly how your product or service helps them achieve the outcomes they desire. And, you must have a questioning strategy to help them identify their “real” wants (as in the previous “handling objections” example) and also connect the aspects of your product or service to those outcomes, especially when those connections aren’t obvious.
If “X” is an outcome a prospect typically desires, and “Y” and “Z” are elements that must be addressed in order to achieve “X” (elements specifically addressed by your product or service), then a question like the following will help prospects make the connection between what they want and what they need:
Tom, when a business owner like yourself tells me he wants X, what I typically find when I analyze his situation is that in order to achieve X, he must first address Y or possibly Z. If we analyzed your situation, do you suppose we’d find the same thing?
In this example, Tom could say “Yes,” in which case the salesperson has succeeded in redirecting Tom’s attention to what needs to be addressed.
But, what if he says, “I don’t know?” Not a problem. The next question would be, “Should we find out?” In all likelihood, Tom would say, “Yes,” and so begins the collaboration…which was the objective in the first place.