Sale’s solutions are what make the business world thrive. The client has a problem and we fix it, our goods or services are delivered, outcomes are achieved and everybody wins. In a lot of cases however these are only partial wins. Problems and issues are a bit like icebergs – there is a lot more going on below the surface than can be spotted from the captain’s bridge. The salesperson’s role is to go after the whole iceberg and not just the obvious bit floating above the waterline.
The standard sales interview is based on two models comprising the outer circles surrounding a bull’s-eye. The extreme periphery is the "telling is selling" model. This ensures the salesperson does most of the talking. The client is subjected to a constant bombardment of features, until they either buy, die or retreat. The second model, the inner circle adjoining the bull’s-eye, is the solution model of providing outcomes that best serve the client, based on what the client has understood is their problem.
The latter is a much better tool and is in pristine condition because so few salespeople use it. The rapid fire of features at the client, rarely provides success because of the randomness of the proffering of alternatives. Welcome to the "toss enough mud at the wall and some is bound to stick" School of Sales. Aligning the fix with the client need in the solution model is the mark of the semi-professional. There is nothing wrong with this model but what are the rockstar sales masters doing?
They are zipping up their wetsuits and diving into the icy water under the iceberg, inspecting things closely and really understanding the full scope of the situation. They are on a mission to try and find what nobody else is seeing. Their ability to deliver previously unseen, unconsidered insights is pure gold for clients.
Mentally picture our big red bull’s-eye at the center of a series of concentric circles. Stating the features of a product or service is the first level, the very outer circle. Our solutions constructed around what the client knows already is the next inner circle. The highest level is providing solutions for problems that the client isn’t even aware of yet.
A truly magical client statement would be: "Oh, I hadn’t thought of that or allowed for it!". Think about your own experience. Anytime we have been a buyer and have uttered those words to ourselves, as a result of insight from the salesperson, we have experienced a major breakthrough in our world view. Now that is the bull’s-eye we want right there.
The salesperson who can provide that type of perspective, alerting clients to over-the-horizon issues, provides such value that they quickly become the client’s trusted business partner. Be it in archery or business, hitting the bull’s-eye is no easy matter. Insight can’t be plucked from the air at will. Plumbing one’s experiences, sorting and sifting for corresponding relevancies and then diving deeply into the client’s world looking for alignment are the skills required.
In a way, ignorance is an advantage. Paraphrasing Peter Drucker, our success can come by asking a lot of "stupid" questions. A salesperson has an outside perspective, untainted and pure. There is no inner veil obscuring the view, no preconceived notions or ironclad assumptions clouding judgment.
Counter intuitively, the fact that we don’t know, what we don’t know, becomes our strength. Ignorance allows us to question orthodoxy in a way that insiders can’t because of inertia, groupthink, company culture or the internal politics of the organization.
When salespeople serve numerous clients, be it in the same industry or across industries, they pick up vital strategic and tactical commercial intelligence. Researching various client’s problems, experiences, triumphs and disasters is valuable – but only if you know how to process the detail.
In all of our companies, we can only see clearly what we are doing ourselves. We all exemplify that Japanese saying: "the frog in the well does not know the ocean". Everything is too familiar and so we don’t ever question everyday normality. We don’t have the opportunity to peak behind the curtain and look into what our competitors are doing.
It is also very rare for company personnel to do study tours of totally unrelated businesses. If we classified industries alphabetically, in a standard business setting, representatives from A and Z would rarely meet, let alone get to trade ideas and experiences. Salespeople however are floating around businesses and therefore able to know many wells and oceans. The ability to select and apply one particularly successful thing in a different context is a commercially valuable skill.
How can salespeople get that skill? Some ways salespeople can provide over-the-horizon value include being highly observant. Take what you have seen working elsewhere for one client, in a different company or industry and then apply it for your current client. Sounds rather easy doesn’t it. The reality is pressured salespeople miss much, record little, remember less and blag their way through most of their client meetings. Let’s all slow down, listen, think, and then innovate. The answers are often right there, but we miss out because we are too busy and not looking for them.
Another way to get that skill is to do practical research. Based on what you already know, build up a point of view on an industry, check it against what your clients are telling you (or conduct company surveys). Delve into nascent potential problems, arrive at your hypothesis and be the first mover. The real time insight garnered from this type of activity, allows salespeople to become rockstars in the business world. They are providing "take it to the bank" added value for the buyer.
We won’t always be able to conjure up a bull’s-eye. However, in trying to do so, our aspirations, general direction and thinking will be correct. Our kokorogamae (心構え) or true intention will be on track. By comparison, our competitors will lag well behind, still waffling on about features or playing detective interrogating clients. We have to move on to a higher dimension, where clients seek us out. They do so because they recognize the value of what we offer. In sales, the inner-most circle, the big red bull’s-eye, leads straight to the winner’s circle and that is where we must be. Let’s make "insight" our springboard to success.