Ten Challenges on Sales Leaders’ Minds - Part II
Where Selling Is Headed in 2010: Action Steps to Winning – Part II

Where Selling Is Headed in 2010 – Action Steps to Winning – Part I

The recession has clearly exposed the weaknesses of many sales organizations. Warren Buffett said it best: “When the tide goes out, you know who has been swimming naked.”

Sales organizations that cling to the old sales paradigms are going to fail in 2010. They will be unable to realize their company’s true potential in the market. The economy has changed, technology has changed, buying behaviors have changed, markets have changed, and many companies see sales slipping because their sales processes, sales technologies, and sales-training methods are stuck in the past.

Salespeople thought of customers as targets to whom they would sell by following the AIDA formula: get the Attention, arouse Interest, fuel Desire, and compel a prospect to Act.

We can no longer think of the customer as an individual decision maker; rather, we need to think of customers as part of a team in which each member is linked to a social network that participates in a global marketplace. We live in a world of interconnected complexity that is often too hard to understand without consulting highly specialized experts.

Many customers are facing complex challenges that are often difficult to describe, diagnose, and resolve in a way that will accelerate their success. While many sales leaders claim that their salespeople are “trusted advisors,” we can no longer assume we know what customers need, since customers are not always clear about what they need to improve the value of their business.

The big paradox is that prospects often say what they want but don’t always mean what they say. What makes this even more challenging is that prospects have less time available than necessary to understand the full extent of their situation, let alone the full extent of the available options.

Successful salespeople need to follow a more rigorous process for diagnosing customer problems, such as one that includes the following steps:

1. Ask the right questions to fully understand the customer’s current situation. What drives his or her business? How does the customer create value? What holds him or her back?
2. Summon the most capable subject matter expert – if needed.
3. Identify the root cause of the problem – and don’t merely rephrase the symptoms.
4. Understand the cost and consequences of doing nothing.
5. Don’t construct a solution solely based on what customers say they want. Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
6. Cocreate with the client an effective plan of action . This will get the client invested in the plan and process.

Action Step for Winning in 2010: Adopt question based selling strategies. It will get far better results than solution selling.


Barry Rhein

Tom Freese

Traditional Selling methods are increasingly useless

The sales pitch is dead. Salespeople whose egos are tied to their spiel are suffering from disappointment. They blame the economy for their poor performance. A good manager or coach would tell them to ditch their pitch and adapt to the new buying behaviors.

Salespeople can no longer rely on the traditional ways of building relationships, such as a round of golf with the prospect or client or offering tickets to a ball game. The era of wining and dining has passed. The relationship with the prospect represents only a fraction of the buying decision that’s now heavily influenced by intracompany communications and a rapidly growing social network.

Solution selling is fading. Why? Buyers are becoming increasingly suspicious of salespeople who pitch their solutions in a generic manner. Buyers know that most solution sellers only put lipstick on a pig, which they want to trade for money. Buyers want to solve their unique business problem and collaborate with smart sellers who can help create and deliver a positive outcome. The successful salesperson is a customer success agent, someone who can diagnose a business problem, cocreate the sale with the buyer, and deliver outcomes that accelerate customer success.

Action step for winning in 2010: Prepare your sales force to focus on business outcomes.

Lou Schachtner: "The Mind of the Customer"

Traditional sales processes prevent sales progress

In most companies, the sales process consists of a hodgepodge of “best practice” steps that worked well when companies enjoyed steady growth year after year and managers had discretionary budgets. Customers asked, “What’s the ROI? Is this the best solution? How does this extend my growth? How can I get this product/service at a lower price?”

Many sales organizations have created proposal templates, white papers, and sales messages that provide compelling answers to the above questions. The result: customer indifference. Why? The recession has transformed these questions to, “Do we have time to think about this now? Is this purchase critical to our company’s future? How big is the risk involved in making this purchase? How confident are we that this investment is a safe bet?”

As a general rule, sales organizations like to design their sales processes based on what makes most sense to them. History has shown that sales processes that are designed by the company don’t reflect how customers want to buy. Mark Sellers created the idea of the BuyCycle Funnel™, based on his book The Funnel Principle.

One of the most effective processes for selling in a recession has been developed by Geoffrey Moore. It was described in a Harvard Business Review article in March 2009 as “provocation-based selling.” The process begins with salespeople identifying a burning issue that is mission critical to the company’s future. This burning issue must be framed in a way that will provoke serious concern that even in this recession, money will be found. To test whether or not the provocation will raise serious concern, sales executives must answer three key questions: 1) Is the burning issue sufficiently serious that it will handicap our ability to compete? 2) Are we unable to fix this ourselves with our existing resources? 3) Is the seller the most reliable and competent resource for solving this issue? Once all questions have been answered to your satisfaction, begin formulating your provocative point of view. For example, “We’ve followed your market very carefully and noticed a significant gap when compared to your competition, which could be alarming unless circumstances change.” The provocation-based selling process: 1) Describe the threat. 2) Get agreement that the challenge exists. 3) Describe the hard consequences of ignoring the challenge. 4) Describe what outcomes you can deliver.

While solution selling aligns with the prevailing customer situation, provocative selling challenges the customer’s established point of view.

Action Step for Winning in 2010: Train your sales team in provocation based selling strategies.


An excellent slide show: "Selling In a Downturn Economy- A Summary"

The original HBR article: "In a Downturn, Provoke Your Customers"

The Funnel Principle

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J.D. Meier

Good stuff.

I think the big shift is to authority, and the network determines the authority ... and this works in conjunction with word-of-mouth marketing.

I think there's also a key shift to micro-niches and super relevancy and specialization. Small is the new big because it's the most relevant and specialized (it's higher up the stack in maturity.)

One way to reduce missing the demand side with your supply side, is to adopt the prosumer model and build solutions with your customers instead of for your customers (as you pointed out.)

Authentic marketing will win over gimmicks, and the network will sniff out the truth over time.

Gerhard Gschwandtner

Hi Tim,
I fully understand your feelings since you have a) A descriptive trademark protecting your rights to the term Solution Selling b) Three books that have Solution Selling in the title and c) A training course that has Solution Selling in the title.
I know that you are without a doubt doing a great job in training salespeople and preparing them with the right tools to be successful. I have no doubt that you have successfully trained thousands of salespeople in your concepts. From a 35,000 foot view, I don't see that solution selling is making a dramatic impact on the mediocre state of selling that reigns today.
Here is what I see:
1. Selling is shifting from the seller to the buyer. The Internet is giving customers a lot more power.
2. What drives sales is no longer a pitch, or a formula, or a trademarked training program but an authentic and intellegent conversation. Conversations drive commerce.
3. The definition of what "selling" is, has changed. While salespeople like to identify with a sales approach, customers don't care. What the definition of the word "selling" means to salespeople is not relevant. What's relevant is what the customer thinks. If customers want a transaction, the salesperson should facilitate the desired transaction. If the customer wants a relationship, salespeople should be able to create the right relationship. If the customer wants a solution, help them with their needs for a solution.
4. When it comes to creating value for a customer, the term solution is inadequate. A solution contains the possibility of creating a positive outcome. A solution may also fail miserably. In other words, a solution contains an element of chance. In this economy, people want to lower their risk, and solution selling contains an element of gambling mixed with a twinge of arrogance.
5. When it comes to the marketing buzz around the word solutions, it is clearly a misused word. Take a look around the tech industry. How many companies have invested in a CRM "solution" and ended up with little results to show for. How is 60% user adoption creating value for a company? How would you like to get 60 cents back on every dollar you spend? The tech industry is a leader for new trends and tech buyers cringe when they hear the word "solution." They want measurable value, they want real results.
6. I believe that it is high time for SPI to adapt to the rapidly changing world of selling. If solution selling was as successful as you claim it is, how come that SPI is not the fastest growing company in the industry?

Tim Sullivan

Gerhard - your post disappoints me greatly. It shows a profound misunderstanding about what “solution selling” really is – I would think that you would know better.

It's odd that you define all the elements of Solution Selling perfectly – and then say that “solution selling is fading”. Are you saying that customers don’t want solutions to their problems? Ah, wait, you say they do. Are you saying that salespeople shouldn’t try to diagnose customer problems and then figure out how they can best provide value? Ah, wait, you say they should do that, too. Isn't this the very definition of "solution selling"?

Your further citation of the mis-characterization of “solution selling” from the March HBR article is disheartening, especially the contention that Solution selling does not challenge a customer's point of view. This is untrue. There are many other serious errors in this article. Please see this post on our blog that highlight these: http://bit.ly/19tHyX

I hope that what you meant to say is that most sellers don’t *really* sell solutions – that they are just pitching product and affixing the “solution” moniker to it. In that regard, we agree completely. But to say that customers don’t want to be sold solutions is just plain silly.

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