Ultimately, customers buy from the seller who offers the best value. Yet salespeople who are seen by buyers as value-multipliers are as rare as pink diamonds.
So, what are the salespeople who fail to generate value doing wrong? For a start, the vast majority continue to use a consultative selling or solution selling model that no longer works. According to McKinsey, for example, “Solutions Selling has been all the rage over the last five to 10 years, yet 75% of the companies that attempt to offer solutions fail to return the cost of their investment.”
The consultative or solution sales process can be reduced to two steps:
Step One: Build a great relationship.
Step Two: Uncover your customers’ needs and clinch the sale with a differentiated, tailored solution.
Consultative selling starts with the premise “build a relationship and the sale will follow.” The problem with this assumption is today’s time-starved clients will no longer invest time into a relationship in the hope it will later translate into value. Before today’s customers will invest time into a relationship, they first want the seller to demonstrate they can add value.
The second assumption that consultative sellers make is that customers place a high value on the differentiated, tailored, product-framed solutions they offer.
If buyers no longer value so-called relationship-driven, customized, largely product-framed solutions, what do they value?
Above all, buyers value fresh insights that will help them make and save money or manage risk. Insights are Aha! I see! moments. “A great insight is like a refrigerator. The moment you look into it, a light comes on,” said advertising guru Jeremy Bullmore.
But valuable insights on their own are not enough to clinch a sale. Buyers also look for certainty and reassurance from a supplier that they can actually deliver what they promise. Risk-averse buyers want to see a clear, direct line between what is promised and what is going to be delivered, and look for proof it will actually be delivered on time and in budget.
The power of an insight comes from its remarkable ability to reframe the way we think and motivate us to take action. A business-changing example of the power of a simple insight to multiply value comes from BIC, the famous ballpoint pen makers.
Marcel Bich founded the BIC Corporation following World War II. For nearly 30 years BIC saw itself as a maker of low-cost plastic ballpoint pens.
From the late 1940’s until the early 1970’s, BIC’s management spent most of its time trying to find expansion opportunities in the low-cost writing implements market.
Much of management’s time was spent identifying incremental improvements such as multiplying the number of colors or pen designs that would expand their market. Business was good but BIC wanted to grow faster. But how?
Then one day an executive proposed that the company should consider making lighters. Imagine the reaction; “That’s not our business!” “We sell pens, not lighters!” “What do we know about lighters?”
The Aha! moment came when one executive challenged the assumption that BIC was a low-cost pen manufacturer.
BIC, he declared, should view itself as a “designer and maker of cheap, plastic, disposable items.”
This simple Aha! value-multiplying ash of insight motivated BIC’s leadership to reconceive their market. In 1973 BIC launched the first disposable lighter. Two years later it released a plastic disposable shaver. Eventually, BIC became number one in the world for branded pocket lighters and the number two for one-piece shavers.
Because of their motivating power, insights are often called Aha! or Eureka moments.
There is a second type of insight that comes from solving a problem by linear logic and reasoning. Katherine Ramsland, the author of SNAP: Seizing Your Aha! Moments, calls these Ah! moments to distinguish them from Aha! insights. When you solve a problem with conscious, disciplined reasoning, you experience the thrill and exhilarations that come from discovering something new, fresh and valuable.
There are two different ways you can use insights to motivate customers to buy.
You can use a form of direct persuasion to directly challenge a customer’s assumptions with provocative and “bold sales and teaching pitches.” This is what the authors of the highly influential book, The Challenger Sale advocate.
Alternatively, you can act as a creative catalyst and use self-persuasion techniques such as storytelling to help a customer convince themselves.
Challenging is a high-risk strategy fraught with danger because buyers resist and push back when told what to do, regardless of the value contained in a pitch.
Moreover, creative catalysts come into their own in big sales environments where success comes from working with multiple decision-makers over a long period and where repeat business and empathetic connections are critical to ongoing profitability.
Most success stories of provocatively challenging customers and taking them out of their comfort zone come when a customer knows the status quo is no longer an option.
Companies can be seduced into thinking that insight-led selling is a little more than a toolkit of Aha! producing techniques to be adopted and mastered. But for an insight-led sales team to truly flourish, it helps enormously if Aha! thinking becomes part of a firm’s DNA.
This is an adapted excerpt from Zero Resistance: The Science and Secrets of Supercharging Your Sales by Eliminating Buyer Skepticism and Mistrust by Harry Mills. He is the Founder & CEO of The Aha! Advantage, an international consulting and training firm that helps blue-chip clients cultivate sales and capture big deals.