I had a restless night with some recurring dreams/nightmares. While it’s been decades since I was in high school and college, I still remember tests and final exams, where we were instructed to “Show your work.” At the time, I remember always being annoyed. “Why can’t I just give you the answer? How much work do I need to show? It’s going to take me such a long time to write all this out….” I, also, suspected showing my google query (which is actually how I got the answers in later years) would be unsatisfactory.
At the time, it made no sense to me, mainly just pissing me off about wasting my time with all that other work. It was easier just to give the answer, particularly when I could just plug numbers into my calculator, or later when I could “google” the answers.
What I didn’t recognize, at the time, what my teachers and professors were trying to do was to look at the quality of our thinking in reaching an answer. While the answers are important, how we get to the answers is as important.
Fast forward to today in our work and how we work with customers. While we are compelled to get or provide answers, the process through which we get to the answers is, possibly, more important.
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
Imagine a situation where a customer is in the final phases of their buying process. (This is so typical of many of the transactional buying processes we engage in.) They have shortlisted three alternatives, including us. Any alternative can solve the customer’s problem (give them the answers they seek). How do we influence them to choose us?
Typically, we deal with this in one of three ways: 1. “We have so many features and functions….” This, usually, fails because each alternative presents the capabilities customers need, so providing more is meaningless. 2. “Look at all the corporate logos of companies using us, wouldn’t you like to see yours listed with those?” Who cares?! 3. Then our old standby, “We are the cheapest, or we will give you discounts to be the cheapest!”
The reality is the only winning approach is to change the customer thinking process on what they are looking for and how they will choose. To do this, we have to engage the customer in “Showing us their work…..” To influence the customer decision, we have to understand their thinking process and how they are getting to the answers. We have to be able to engage them in that thinking process to shift their perspectives–perhaps change some priorities, to look at things differently, to add some new considerations.
If we don’t understand and influence the way the customers think about these issues and arrive at answers, our ability to win is seriously threatened.
Let’s look at the more complex issues and problems that concern our customers. There are plenty of alternatives and “right” answers, there are probably far more “wrong/dangerous” answers. We know from The Jolt Effect, the majority of customer buying decisions end in “no decision made,” because of FOMU/FOFU.
It turns out, the customer doesn’t know how to think about the problem. They don’t know, or have little confidence in the process they must go through to make a high quality decision. They are confused with a plethora of conflicting information, data, perspectives.
It turns out those high performing sellers that help the customers navigate this process focus less on “here are the answers,” rather focusing here’s how you get to the answers. They help the customer in thinking about the process, looking at the issues. They give the customer the confidence that the process they have gone through to reach an answer is the “right process.”
It turns out, and research like that in The Jolt Effect, or that which Hank Barnes does on buyer regret support, the process to getting to an answer is more important than the answer, itself.
But this presents a problem in our go to market and sales enablement strategies.
Our focus is on giving our people the answers, and training them in giving the customer the answers!
We don’t train our people in how to reach the answers and the learning produced in that process. We don’t train people in how to help the customer think about what they are trying to do.
Our people are incapable of helping the customer get to the answers, because they have never had to do that themselves.
Having/providing answers is important. but the challenges our customers face are very difficult. We create the greatest value in helping our customers navigate their way to developing answers in which they have great confidence.
What if we started training our people in helping customers do this? What if we started doing programs focused on enhancing curiosity, critical thinking, problem solving and collaborative conversations? What if we trained them in Business Focused Selling, rather than Product Focused Selling?
Imagine the results it would produce for both our customers and our own organizations.
Afterword: As we think about leveraging tools like ChatGPT, I’m discovering the real value is not in the answers it gives (most are mediocre or wrong), instead, the value is in how it helps me think. Sadly, I think we are losing a lot of this power because we focus on the answers and not how we get the answers.