The Most Important First Step in a Sales Process
In my first enterprise software company we developed a methodology for sales that we called PUCCKA.
This post is about the “P” or pain.
The point of PUCCKA was to develop a common methodology to make sure our whole team approaches sales with the same mindset and to give us a language to talk with each other about our prospects, as in, “have you identified your customers pain point yet?”
Having a methodology instead of just going on random sales visits helped force a bit of rigor and honesty amongst team members about how well or not we thought we were doing.
It’s a reminder that unless your prospect has a need to solve a problem they are not going to buy a product. Customers sometimes buy things spontaneously without thinking through what their actual need is. But often there is an underlying reason for a purchase even if the buyer doesn’t bring it to the surface.
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Take for example the years 2010-2012 where every brand out there seemed to be buying Facebook “Likes.” In truth many companies had no idea why they actually needed Facebook Likes but there was still a pain point. The pain was that somebody senior in the organization had read about the importance of Facebook for business and had begun asking loud questions about why the organization didn’t have a strong Facebook presence.
That is still “pain.” It’s a reason a company would buy. That a boss is a dolt with no economic rationale for what he is asking to be achieved does not disqualify pain. Just watch Mad Men and you’ll know that.
Too many sales reps walk into customer meetings with their pre-canned sales decks and proudly squawk through 30 of their favorite slides without engaging the customer in a discussion.
The reason they do this is that it’s far easier to go through talking points you’ve said 100 times than to engage the customer in a dialog about their business challenges.
I call these people crocodile sales people – small ears and a big mouth.
It is not effective because while you leave the meeting feeling great about yourself you really don’t have any further knowledge of the customers “pain.”
I call this sales approach “tell & sell” and I don’t recommend it.
The best sales meetings are discussions. The goal is to get the customer speaking about their organization. And the best kind of questions to ask are open-ended questions.
I’ve also seen the converse too many times – sales reps who walk into a meeting and spout out, “so, tell us what’s not working in your manufacturing process!”
I hate when people do this to me. My first thought is, “You asked for the meeting – why am I going to give you a bunch of ammunition to sell to me?”
There is an art to teasing out pain points.
I recommend starting with a brief overview of you, your company and your solution. And by brief I mean BRIEF! You’d be amazed at how long some people rattle off their life stories in an introduction. Nobody wants to hear your life story other than your mom.
After a brief overview of you, your company and your solution I recommend putting up some example clients you’ve worked with, although you obviously need their approval first.
These references make for great discussions with customers. If you have enough references in your arsenal you obviously want to pick out ones that you believe will resonate with your prospect due to job function or industry.
And then there’s the key transition slide, which I call “What We Find” (WWF) or some variation of this.
WWF gives you the ability to tease out the problem having just shown similar cases where customers have this problem.
“What we find is that many of our customers have been accumulating Facebook Likes because they thought they were supposed to. Now they have a few thousand Likes but haven’t been able to figure out whether this is improving their bottom line. They don’t have a way to measure the effectiveness of a Like.”
“Do you see that at all inside your department? Have you found a way to best link your potential marketing leads in social media into activity that leads to more business?”
Often if a customer has heard similar problems described in other customers (not hearing your solution pitched at them but a real business discussion about the pain point) then they will start to open up and have a discussion.
Even if they start to debate with you whether this is a real problem or not, you’re having a much better meeting then just flipping through slides. If they’re going to take the time, energy and logic to try and debate with you then they’re at least engaged.
People prefer to hear themselves speak rather than to listen to you. It’s just human nature.
So throughout the meeting your job is to tease out as many discrete pain points that are near enough to your solution set to begin talking about what it is that you do.
Write down the customer pains so you’ll have them for later. Ask questions the whole time. The best form of sales is “active listening” where you’re engaged in what the customer is telling you.
And please resist the temptation to cut off the customer with a story of your own.
You know, the blah, blah, blah I heard you but now let ME tell you this great story I have. Most people naturally do this at cocktail parties (everybody does) but not in sales meetings. Never. When you cut off customers with your stories you lose valuable insights that might be exposing more pain points.
Open questions equals a treasure trove of information to mine for pain points.
Show your knowledge and charm through great questions not great anecdotes.
In many ways it’s more enjoyable to learn about other people than it is to spout BS about your company or products.
In the words of Dale Carnegie,
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Or in words that I first heard from one of the greatest sales gurus of all time, Zig Ziglar
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”
Apparently Zig got that from Theodore Roosevelt if the Internet is to be trusted.
But it is so true. I think every big sale I have had in life came because I genuinely cared about the person buying from me. In many ways, the “sale” made me feel more committed in my role at the company because I felt a huge sense of obligation to live up to the expectations the buyer had entrusted in me.
Ask more. Listen more. Care more. Problem solve. Good things will come.
Thank you to Jeff Hughes for reminding me of the Ziglar quote.
If you get your prospects talking about problems you’ve solved the first step of sales, “Why Buy Anything?”
Frankly if you can’t sit with prospects and tease out pain points then you ought to be working in a different department than sales or executive leadership.
Everybody has pain points – believe me.
And once you manage to tease out some problems you can then begin to pivot the meeting importantly to your solution and how it may solve their problem.
But that’s the next post, “Unique Selling Proposition” or USPs.