Sellers try to generate interest in every outreach, “People like you have these challenges…… We can solve your problems…” Our “discovery” is focused on, “Do you have this issue…..We have a solution!”
Everything we do is focused on getting to the demo, getting to the pitch, getting to the proposal as quickly as possible.
It seems to be human nature to rush to solutions. In some sense, we can understand this. Sellers are trained to talk about their products and solutions. In some sense, buyers might be prone to leap to solutions. They have a problem, they want to solve it and move on.
As sellers we know what our products do and are trained to talk about that. But we aren’t trained to understand the problem deeply. We aren’t trained to help our customers diagnose these, internalize them, and gain confidence in their ability to solve the problem.
We have mountains of research confirming this:
- We reflect back to the old Gartner “spaghetti chart” on the buying journey. They start/stop, wander, shift focus and priorities. So much of this is based on their lack of understanding the problem(s) they are solving, how they will define it, the alternatives they might consider, who should be involved, questions they should be asking, things they should be learning. Their struggle to understand this makes them very inefficient and ineffective in navigating their problem understanding and solving journey.
- We know the struggle in navigating this process, most of the time results in failure. 60% of the time they abandon the project. They choose not to change, or their fears and uncertainty paralyzes them, preventing them from moving forward.
- And for those that do move forward, an increasing number of them express regret. Less about the solution they have chosen, more about “have they done the right thing.” We know the importance of decision confidence in moving forward in the implementation of their project.
It’s easy to understand how these things happen. In complex B2B buying, there are a lot of people involved, each with different agendas, priorities, and perspectives of the problem (It’s useful to think of the blindfolded people arrayed around an elephant and describing it).
They aren’t experts in understanding the problem and how to fix it. If they were, wouldn’t they have avoided it? They may not understand how to define it, characterize it, measure it’s impact, understand the risks. They may have little experience in addressing these types of issues, they are distracted by their day jobs. They may not understand the necessity to address the issue. They may not understand how others have addressed similar issues. They struggle to develop and execute a project plan to manage their way through the process. They don’t know how to get organizational and management support for the project. They may feel pressure to “do something,” but don’t know what. And many more.
These issues have little to do with the solution. But they stand in the way to committing to, addressing, and selecting a solution.
Sellers, seldom recognize these issues, and are, too often, unskilled in addressing these. Sellers are trained to ask the minimum set of questions to propose a solution. It’s almost always focused on a single issue, not a comprehensive understanding of the problem and what the customer is trying to achieve (which they are unlikely to know early in the process.) For example, in selling to sellers, depending on what you sell, you will ask the customer different things:
- Do you need more prospects? We solve that by doing this…
- Do you need to improve your win rate? We solve that, by doing this…
- Do you need to improve seller productivity? We solve that, we solve that by doing this…
- Do you need to improve revenue growth? We solve that by doing this…
- Do you need to reduce non selling time? We solve that by doing this….
- Do you need to expand into new markets? We solve that by doing this….
- Do you need to reduce cost of selling? We solve that by doing this….
- Do you need healthier pipelines? We solve that by doing this….
- Do you need….. We solve that….
There are few organizations that solve all of these problems, so we tend to want to steer the conversation to the problem we solve then leap to the solution. We make the problem we solve the most important problem, even if it may not be for the customer.
Customers may not have all the problems, but usually they have several, but they struggle with the interrelationship and which is most important. Which should they do first? Why? Which are unimportant and can be ignored?
But more important, the customer doesn’t even know how to look at all of these, their interrelationships and where to start. And it’s that uncertainty that slows them down, that causes them to wander, that causes them to fail. And it’s with this that they need the most help and where we can be most helpful. If we help the customer think through and understand the problem first, to gain confidence in this and that they are addressing the right things. In doing this, we build trust and buyer confidence.
And then when they understand this, they say, “Can you help us?” They have deep understanding, deep confidence, and are able to move forward with greater confidence of success.
- We help them detangle their spaghetti process, simplifying their problem solving/buying journey.
- We help them complete their buying process with greater confidence. And we help them complete it more purposefully and in a shorter time.
- We help them choose and implement a solution with lower regret.
- We help them win and through helping them win, we win!
But now, here’s the “gotcha!” You knew I was building to this!
Our sales people don’t know how to do this! We don’t train them in how to hold these conversations. We train them in conversations about presenting our products, not in understanding and helping our customers solve their problems.
Recently I did an informal survey, “How many sales enablement programs include business/financial acumen training,” Fewer than 5% of the organizations I spoke with offered anything resembling this. But as you might guess, 100% of them had product and sales training.
We need to train our sales people in the areas where our customers need the most help.
And there are interesting results from this, things we see with clients implementing this business focused approach:
- Win rates skyrocket–we would expect this.
- Fewer projects are abandoned so % of no decision made reduces profoundly.
- Buying and sales cycles shorten! This is counterintuitive. But helping customers better organize and manage their process, enables them to complete it more quickly. We help them reduce the wandering, shifts in direction, starts/stops, etc. We will never completely eliminate it, but we can significantly reduce it.
As Albert Einstein said:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”