A Collaborative Sales Model Changes the Seller’s Value
Some people believe that the job of the seller is to communicate and offer value, or to differentiate their offering so buyers know how to choose one product over another. I’ve also heard it said that the products themselves create value.
But in this world of global information flow, it’s almost impossible to differentiate yourself by your product alone, no matter how good it is: we all realize that giving clients product information, or asking the questions that have them reveal current problems or preferences, does not get the product sold – or you’d be closing a lot more sales.
HOW DO YOU CREATE VALUE IN A FLAT MARKET?
In fact, no matter what sales approach you’re currently using – and numbers indicate that most sales people don’t follow any one selling model and use a hybrid’ mix of their own design – you’ve got the same dilemma: how do you create value in a flat market in which products, vendors, questions, presentations, and, yes, sellers, all seem similar.
Not only are sellers having confusion as to why they are not closing more or quicker these days, but buyers are completely overwhelmed:
- how to choose the most appropriate vendor when they all sound/appear professional and their offerings are so similar;
- how to choose the optimal solution when there are so many possible choices;
- how to incorporate the necessary aspects of the status quo into any change so there won’t be damage when a new purchase enters the system.
It’s frustrating for all when buyers choose the familiar brand just because it’s the safest choice when it might not provide cutting edge thinking, or the most appropriate solution.
So sales are taking 30% longer to close – even with the ability of sellers to position their product and brand effectively.
But what, actually, is a seller’s value proposition? Is it your brand? Your product? Your relationship?
And, how do you differentiate yourself given the same product line – like many technical products, or banking vehicles? In frustration, do you end up making it a price competition, and lower your price (We know that doesn’t work. Buyers buy on price only when all else looks equal)? Give away a service for free just to lure the customer in?
The bigger question to consider is: how do you become the value proposition?
SALES AS THE VALUE PROPOSITION
Of course you care about your customers and have strategically positioned your customer service to exhibit a seamless customer experience, and created a trustworthy, reliable, knowledgeable, and supporting presence.
But everyone is doing that.
Imagine changing the game. Indeed, imagine being the value proposition that differentiates you from your competitors.
It’s possible to create a new value proposition: make yourself the facilitator that brings the buyer side of the sales equation into focus. Have the facilitation skills to offer prospects access into the internal systems decisions they would need to make that are not product related (hint: if all necessary decisions are product-related and the buyer has already managed all people, political, historic, relationtional, and strategic issues that hold the identified problem in place, your normal sales skills are sufficient).
Your new value proposition is to close the gap between the selling and the buying. Although you’ve understood that sales is comprised of two equal components – the buy side and the sell side – the sell side has not afforded you the skills to be able to manage the critical systems elements within the buying environment or craft the purchase in the time frame, pricing structure, or package you’d prefer (giving you extended sales cycles, problems knowing what’s really going on, and difficulty in assessing the way decisions are being made). Those have been hidden from you, and possibly even hidden from the buyer initially. But they were hidden only because the job of the seller hasn’t included the ability to help manage the buyer’s internal systems issues.
Let me give you a recent example. I received a call from a vice president of a well-known insurance company who was curious about Buying Facilitation as a result of an article he read. I began the call by leading him down the Buying Decision Funnel (with no pitch or information gathering). Within a few Facilitative Questions it became apparent that he had a problem much bigger than the sales training he called about: his last sales training failed because he/they didn’t do the work to keep it going over time. My response was the following Presumptive Summary and Facilitative Question:
SDM: I hear you saying that you like new ideas brought into your company and have tried most of the new thinking in sales, but you haven’t yet figured out a way to develop a buy-in model for your regional vice presidents to enable them to move your initiatives forward in a sustained fashion.
What would you need to be considering differently in any new training, to ensure that you would be able to get the buy-in necessary upfront, to create a model that would move the initiative forward and keep it on track through time?
PROSPECT: Right. You hit the nail on the head. How would I? Every one of my initiatives has taken twice as long as I think they should for this exact reason. And you’re telling me we can build in the buy-in management right from the beginning. Great. So I not only need sales training from you, but a way to facilitate buy-in in all of my initiatives.
And I must tell you that I already trust that you could lead me through this initiative, and I’ve only spoken with you for 5 minutes.
What did I do here? Instead of using the call to pitch my training (and my training is GREAT), or gathering data about his needs (which would only have addressed the areas directly around the identified problem), I helped him recognize problems he’d encountered through other change initiatives and had deemed ‘endemic’, and hadn’t been on his radar screen as a fixable problem. My Facilitative Questions and summaries showed him how he could make different decisions in the future, using an additional program than the one he called about (I upsold before I sold!). Additionally, he already sees me as a trusted advisor. Going forward, we’ve set another appointment that will include the other decision makers, thereby closing the gap of the sales cycle by at least months (while ensuring the success of the project). Not to mention, that he is already talking about implementing my training. All within the first 5 minutes of a call with a brand new prospect.
HELPING MANAGE THE BUY SIDE FIRST
The components within the buy-side that must be managed – all of the moving parts necessary for the buyer to perform optimally through the change that a new solution would affect – are often unknown up front. And the time it takes buyers to not only recognize the elements, but to manage them effectively, is the length of the sales cycle. They won’t purchase a solution that offends their status quo.
Let’s change the nature of the sales job to include helping buyers recognize the elements within the buy side that they need to manage, separate from their apparent needs, or how our solution fits.
The new value proposition for a sales job is to help the buyer manage the full range of their hidden moving parts, automatically giving you a competitive edge (Do you think the VP above will think about calling someone else?). It will no longer be just about your product or your brand, your relationship or your personality. It will be about your skill at facilitating the buyer’s decision making.
What’s so complex about making a purchasing decision when the identified problem is obvious? When the buyer basically knows what they need and what the options are? When they understand their pain’ and the cost of not fixing the problem? Isn’t it curious that you often have to remind buyers how much it’s costing them to not solve their problem? Either they are stupid and actually do need you to tell them all that, or you are stupid for not understanding something that is going on within their environment.
Buyers are smart. They know where they hurt, they know how much it’s costing them, and what a final solution has to give them. But if that were enough, they would have either closed with you or they resolved the problem already. They are not delaying a purchase because of your product or their problem or your solution (and we know they don’t need your product per se – just a means to solve their problem). They are delaying their purchase until all of their internal pieces fit with the change that will happen when they bring in something new.
What if you truly recognize that there is a buy side as well as a sell side, and that the first aspect of your sales job were to be to help buyers define the decisions necessary prior to making a purchasing decision – say a set of predecisions.’
What would these predecisions’ be? They would include the historic elements that created and maintain their current state: the people, policies, rules, norms, relationships, vendors, partners and the status quo that have managed to keep the identified problem intact until now.
Understanding these systems will help you understand that the problem that your product can resolve is a small piece of a larger system. Any solution must involve systems thinking, not a usual aspect of sales until now:
– systems maintain their status quo because they seek homeostasis, so they will either not recognize a problem or drag their heels in solving it until they can ensure that the fix won’t cause chaos (after all, it’s been fine’ until now);
– once a system realizes that a problem exists and truly needs to be fixed, it will work like hell to find a fix among familiar resources so – you’ve got it – they won’t have to be disrupted;
– and if they absolutely need a new product or a new vendor to manage the problem, they need to make sure that the parts that created the problem are going to buy-in to the proposed fix.
To summarize: your prospect would rather keep everything the same if possible; if they must do something different, they will fervently attempt to fix the problem with a current provider or business partner; if they can’t do that, they will have to understand every element that a new solution would touch – a different department, outdated rules, historic relationships or sales initiatives – before risking even more pain.
As you can see, selling into this scenario leaves you on the outside, unless you can affect change within. And the model of sales as you’ve known it doesn’t offer those skills.
TIME TO CHANGE THE JOB
Rethink your job to enable you to approach prospects as a trained facilitator. You’ve invested so much in becoming a professional seller – your pitch, communication, information gathering, relationship building skills are all finely honed. Make your first job be helping them figure out all the aspects of their unique system that they need to address before they will know how to incorporate your offering into their solution design.
Here are a few things that buyers – not sellers! – must consider before they do anything to upset their status quo:
What is the history of how the identified problem became a problem? Who was involved historically, and how? What stopped them from fixing the problem until now? What current vendors would need to be considered before they could consider you? And what would need to happen for them to fix it now: what rules would need to be changed? What people would need to be comfortable? What partners or vendors would need to participate? How would they need a new vendor to ensure that a new solution would work coherently with their status quo – to fix the problem, to keep people comfortable, to enable technology so it all fits together? How will they ensure that all of the people and rules and politics will be managed capably once your solution enters into their system?
By helping prospects go through this before you gather information about their identified problem, and before you pitch product, they will tell you know how to position your pitch, and incorporate the full spectrum of their needs for change and solution into your discussions.
Then, you will be differentiated because you’ve supported change, not disruption, and proven yourself to be a true consultant, the client will meld you into their solution design, and price won’t be an issue. And, you’ll be making their buying decision easier. They have to do all this anyway – either with you or without you. And the time it takes them to do it is the length of the sales cycle.
Make your new value proposition your new job as a Buying Facilitator. After all, do you want to sell? Or have someone buy.
Should you wish to learn more about this, go to www.buyingfacilitation.com and purchase my ebook Buying Facilitation: the new way to sell that expands and influences decisions