As published on Forbes.com
I often get asked about different techniques that business can use to close more business. However, the greatest impact you can have happens at the very beginning of the sales process, not at the end. You have to know how to attract your ideal clients to your business. If you want to create compelling messages that serve as a magnet for your ideal customers, you have to think in their terms. More so than anything you can say, you have to ask your clients these questions to drive dramatic business growth.
Why What You’ve Been Taught Is Wrong
Traditional sales and marketing taught businesses to market by sharing your features and benefits. They taught, based on what they knew, that businesses should describe their features and then extrapolate the associated benefits. Businesses in turn have invested time and effort to train sales teams to overcome objections. If the client wants your product in stainless steel, and you don’t make it in stainless steel, then you use various tactics to convince the client that the attribute (in this case, stainless steel) is not important. Most traditional marketing is based on the notion of collecting names of people who could be interested, and then get your sales organization to determine which opportunities are real, and which ones are not worth pursuing. The thought is that it is too difficult to start by attracting the best opportunities. So, marketers decide to attract everyone, and then weed through the pile to find the good ones. There has to be a better method, right?
How Executives Make Decisions
In research with over five thousand CEOs and Executives around the world, I’d asked them to describe the questions they would ask to approve or deny a purchase request for a product or service. I start by asking them to come up with their top five questions, and then narrow that list down to three. Consistently, the list is the same regardless of company size (from $1 million to billions), industry, or geography:
- What problem does it solve and why do we need it?
- What is the likely result/outcome?
- What are the alternatives?
This means that the notion of features and benefits does not align with how customers make decisions. If you’ve ever had a potential client ask, “How are other people using this?” – They are trying to understand why they might need it, now that you’ve piqued their interest.
How To Uncover The Problems You Solve
Once you understand the significance of the research, you might run to your existing customers and ask about the results they get from your products or services. You might ask questions like, “What does our product or service allow you to do that makes it valuable?” Though this seems like a valuable question, the results are often misleading. Though your existing customer might be aware of the results, your potential customer will not care about results until they first understand what problem you solve for them and why they might need what you offer.
It is easy for your client to tell you what they believe you want to hear – namely, the great attributes about your product or service now that they have it. Instead, you want to take them back to before they had your product or service. You want them to share a) What problem they were facing; and b) Why it was so important to solve that problem.
Instead of asking about results, first, try asking your current clients these questions:
- What were you unable to do without our product or service?
- What impact was that having on the organization that compelled you to invest time and resources to find a solution?
- What would have happened organizationally and personally if you had not solved that issue?
As you collect the list of problems you solve, you’ll uncover a pattern. In most organizations, we discover about one half dozen examples of these problems you solve. When you meet with a potential client, you get to share the two or three that are most likely to resonate with them. I’d suggest using a structure similar to the Same Side Pitch referenced here. Following this structure will ensure that you show up in a disarming way as someone there to help solve important issues, not just trying to sell something.
It’s Your Turn
After you’ve gone through this exercise, please share with me the problems you solve for your customers. I’ll do my best to offer feedback to help you achieve extraordinary success.