When you have a chronic pain that prompts a visit to a physician, what is the typical office protocol? They will ask you questions about the pain, other symptoms, challenges around it, etc., and also take your vitals. If you are a 50-year-old man with high blood pressure, overweight and sedentary most of your day, your physician can identify issues that could contribute to the pain as well as other potential threats. Without a medical history and a current assessment, a physician cannot provide a diagnosis.
One would think that the same methodology would apply in business sales. To understand how to best serve a customer, you need to understand his or her pain points. But often this is not the approach. For those who would like to use this method, here is how it might apply to a sales opportunity.
The first instinct for many businesses is to assess pain points themselves. For example, a company can’t get what it wants from its current technology or sales are declining in a specific area, and the company launches a self- assessment to determine the “why.” Based on what is found, a homegrown solution or a band-aid is put in place, but it is only meant to be temporary. Business resumes and before long, what was temporary becomes permanent until the next problem. The next issue creates additional problems and now multiple issues have escalated to a “code blue,” and the company needs an immediate resolution.
This is often the starting point for a sales opportunity.
The company determines the issues are outside their ability to correct, and an expert is called in to help. Depending on the company, one might choose a low-cost provider, and another may want a more recognized solution. Either way, a solution provider is coming to help the company with the challenge.
I have heard this saying for years, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I have been on both sides of the equation, in sales and as a customer. When an outside consultant comes charging in with a solution before taking the time to get to know a company and the challenge, a red flag emerges in my mind.
Here is what I would prefer to happen — much like visiting a physician.
Get to know the company
Do as much research as possible before the appointment and have some well-thought-out questions. Don’t waste time asking for information that could have been obtained from the company’s website — unless of course you need more clarification. Be curious about what has been successful for the customer and what hasn’t. What drives the company — the culture, the customers?
Learn about the issue
Ask questions about the problem. What does it impact, both internally and externally? What has the company done so far to resolve the issue? What has worked, what hasn’t? Does it affect other areas of the business? How will it impact the company’s growth?
Ask about goals
What would the company like to happen with a new solution? What is the timeline? Are there other tools or services being considered? What makes them attractive to company? What does the customer value most in a provider?
Notice that there are a lot of questions that need to be asked before a recommendation can be made on a solution. In the case of the patient and the physician, you wouldn’t expect a diagnosis without the proper questions and understanding of the problem. Why would we expect business to be any different? And yet this is where failure to align sales and a customer’s pain points happens. Even if a salesperson has seen the same scenario many times before, it is critical to understand the customer’s business to better fit a solution to their needs.
Perhaps the most valuable outcome obtained by taking the time to understand the company, its issues and its goals is that trust is built. And as we all know, trust is critical to relationship development. Most companies aren’t looking for a “hammer,” they are looking for a solution that is being supported by a relationship. They want someone who isn’t selling them something, but rather serving their needs.
With trust comes responsibility. So, for the salespeople reading this article, be genuine and honest. Only suggest products or services that meet the needs and goals of the customer. Your customers will appreciate the professionalism and the relationship. Next time they have an issue, they will call you.
For businesses reading this article, look for a salesperson who wants the best solution for your issue or problem and who arrives at that conclusion by getting to know your business. The very best sales professionals will even tell you if their solution isn’t the best fit.
Leisa Gill is director of client experience and leader of the Privately Held Business Segment at LBMC, a premiere Tennessee-based professional services firm. Contact Leisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-309-2231.