July 11, 2009

Can you write your customers ‘I have a Dream’ speech

Moving beyond points of pain for a more compelling proposition.

Martin Luther King is not remembered for an ‘I have a problem’, but rather an ‘I have a dream’ speech. He brought the issue of civil rights and race relations centre stage, but will always be remembered for his dream of the solution, not his definition of the problem.

Think about this in relation to the message you want to leave with your customers and prospects. Do you want it to focus on the problem, or on what their life and business can and should look like once that problem is surmounted?

Is it easier to rally people around the problems they are facing, or around a vision of what they can achieve? Well, let us take another more contemporary statesman as a reference. Barack Obama did not get elected on a ‘no we can’t’ ticket. Yes, he did speak plainly about the problems (of which there were many), but what rallied people was not agreement regarding the problems, but his vision of a better America. Think about this in terms of your last sales meeting, presentation, or proposal – did it focus on defining the problem, or envisioning the future post its resolution.

Are You Focused Too Much on Pain?

Think of it this way – do you go to the doctor to find out what is wrong, or to get a remedy, or cure? For a long time ‘problems’ and ‘pain’ have been the glue of the complex sale. Find, leverage and accentuate them and you got yourself a customer, or at least a prospect. Now there is no doubt that buyer problems and pain does represent an important dimensions to understanding customer needs and their behaviours. However, it is in no way the full picture. Here is why:

· Problems can be a lot more contentious that solutions. Problems, politics and blame are often intermingled, making it difficult to get agreement on the problem. Focusing on the solution instead can be less divisive.

· Some may be sensitive about discussing their problems with outsiders and particularly those they feel want to exploit them (that is sales people).

· Some people don’t realize, or don’t want to realize they have a problem. Others may realize they have problems but not want to own them. The complex sale requires that you not just sell to those with existing needs, but that you help create the need among others.

· A focus on problems can sap morale and motivation. By definition it can involve looking backwards, as opposed to looking forward. In addition, people can also learn to live with problems and with pain, taking refuse in denial, or inertia.

Moving from, or Moving To Motivation.

Have you ever noticed that some people are motivated by what they want, while others are motivated by the opposite? Let me explain. Some people are driven to meet target and all that goes with it, while others may be as powerfully motivated but for a different reason – that is the fear of missing target.

Similarly, some people go to the gym because they want to look good in a swimming suit, while others go because of the dread of being pointed at on the beach. Put simply this could be referred to as moving away from and moving towards motivation. So, which one applies to your various prospects and which form of motivation do you find yourself appealing to most?

The Higher You Sell, The More You Should Focus on Promise, Not Problems.

We find that as salespeople sell higher in organisations, particularly at C Level, the focus moves somewhat from problems and more to the achievement of business goals, or potential. Also we find that the more product, or technology focused the seller is the greater the focus on problem and pain. That is because it can be easier to latch onto a problem than to develop a full understanding of what it is that the prospect’s business wants to, or can potentially achieve.

That is because at C level the salesperson's focus has to be as much on the business objectives and strategy, as the buying process and the buying decision. Afterall it is a business decision first and foremost and the business case is foremost.

A focus on problems to justify selling your solution, can result in a band aid mentality with narrow problem definitions that run the risk of addressing symptoms rather than their causes. An example would be the implementation of a sales system in order to address sales reporting and paperwork problems, without addressing more fundamental issues relating to sales process, structure and effectiveness.

The resulting danger is that the system may reinforce underlying problems, say for example where it ends up automating existing inefficient processes. Another potential issues that may arise from a failure to understand what the business wants to, can, or should achieve is that its project may be vulnerable to a range of other risk factors, such as a change in internal priorities where the system implementation is delayed because the sales manager succeeds in persuading his colleagues of the need to ’get the house in order first’.

Take The 'I have a dream' Test.

Helping your customers envision a more successful future is a powerful ingredient of the complex sale.

- So could you write your customers ‘I have a dream’ speech?

- How much of this dream (at a personal, as well as a organizational level) is reflected in your sales presentations, conversations and proposals?

- What is the ‘Yes we can’ message your sales proposition is communicating?

After all it is better to 'light a candle than to curse the darkness' to quote no less than Mother Theresa.

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