- Sales Role Agility
- Who Cares About Big Data, Where Are The Big Questions?
- Sales Operations, Serving Sales People—An Interview With Tony Walker
- DumbingThings Down Versus Radical Simplification
- Buying Is A High Risk Job!
- Solving Our Problems
- Seeing Things Differently, Seeing Different Things
- Try Selling Sand
- Questions We’re Afraid To Ask
It's human nature to categorize things and people. It enables us to build models and constructs. It enables us to more easily deal with ambiguity, abstractions, and other things. Somehow things seem easier and clearer when everything has a box and everything is in its box. We characterize and categorize sales people-putting the different types into boxes-hunters/farmers, lone wolves, consultative, connectors, challengers, relationship builders, conductors, builders, transactors, and so forth. Each has it's own characteristics. Depending on the fashion of the times, or one's biases, one is perceived as better than the other. Need to acquire new customers, an executive will say, "We need a sales force of hunters." Launching a new company, we treasure the lone wolf. In driving insight we want to build sales organizations of Challengers. The problem with categorization, many models or constructs is they represent an approximation of the real world at a point in time. But reality changes things, everything isn't as clean, we can't put everything into a box and construct the ideal sales person or ideal sales organization. Build an organization of challengers in a transaction focused buying environment, and you will drive customers (and your own company) crazy. Look at a complex buying cycle and you may need a "challenger" to get the customer committed to change, but then you may need a "hard worker" to work with the customer in the myriad of details of planning, risk assessment, evaluation through other parts of the sales cycle, and then in implementation, you may need someone who is more empathetic or "relationship" oriented to keep the customer moving forward. Have an unhappy customer and a "problem solver" approach might be most appropriate. (I'll use the Challenger categories for many of the examples in this post). Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson would say (At least I've heard Matt say), that sometimes Challengers display Hard Worker, Relationship Builder, Problem Solver or other characteristics. Or that a Problem Solver may display some Challenger characteristics. So while these categories give us interesting models to look at developing our sales people and organizations, I think it's important to consider another dimension to this issue--that is individual and organizational agility (nimbleness, flexibility). Perhaps, while we may want a sales force that displays more of certain types of characteristic, say challenging, than others,what we may really need is sales people who are nimble or adaptable to the specific situation. The challenger may need to display more problem solving characteristics with certain customers or at certain points in the buying cycle. Or they may need to display more relationship builder characteristics. So sales people who are agile or flexible-moving between roles as appropriate are probably more effective in addressing changing customer engagement expectations than those that are "hard-wired" into one category. But it's probably a very rare individual that can be equally good at all. We can train and develop people to improve their capabilities in each area, but it is probably unrealistic to expect large numbers of sales people to be agile in all roles. But in looking at an organization, we have a lot more possibilities and flexibility in designing our organizations. Particularly when we consider, in complex B2B sales, sales success is more of a team sport than the result of a single individual contributor. We already know we the breadth of our solutions demands specialization, and teams of various specialists working together create a more effective overall organizational deployment model. We may be better served (and more effectively engage our customers) by having teams composed characteristics. Perhaps teams composed of challengers, hard workers, problems solvers and relationship builders. We might imagine the challenger inciting the customer to change, a problem solver or hard worker taking the lead in the tedium of evaluating alternatives, proving our superiority and so forth. At times, the challenger may need to re-engage, as might the others. When we look at behavioral analysis, for example, Meyers Briggs type of analysis, we know the strongest and most effective teams have a mix of all the behavior types. That teams dominated by one behavior type, say drivers, are often very ineffective. But teams with all the behavior types complement the individual strength and weaknesses, performing at higher levels. A more simple example-a composed exclusively of 9 pitchers won't be very successful. So perhaps we want to look at team and organizational design differently. Maybe it's wrong to build an organization of just Challengers-as flexible as they may be as individuals, they still will revert to challenging behaviors. Likewise with problem solvers, hard workers, relationship builders and so forth. We can't build an organization of just one characteristic, because one size does not fit every customer buying situation. Maybe the highest performing organizations look building a set of complementary skills, and develop the organizational agility to put the right player in at the right time in the right situation. While categorization is very helpful in looking at developing organizations and people, aligning with our strategies and customers, we can't stop there. We also have to overlay role adaptability (within the individual and/or the organization), nimbleness and agility to maximize our ability to be most responsive in all customer situations.
This morning, I'm sitting in a series of presentations extolling the value of big data. I get it-kind of. I get that more data has been created in the past 2 years than in the history of mankind. I get that data is everywhere, we can know so much about so many different things. I get there are very powerful tools, enabling us to gather disparate types of data from thousands of sources, slicing and dicing it in ways previously unimaginable. I think if I hear one more statistic, hear any more testimonials about the power of big data, I'll throw up. I wonder though, why don't we hear presentations or talks about "big questions." Without big questions, big data is nothing more than billions of 1′s and 0′s. Big data actually isn't powerful, it's the big questions that make the big data powerful. But we don't talk about the big questions. We don't have workshops discussing things like, "What insight are we trying to get? Why is it important? What are we trying to model? How are will we validate the models and it's meaning? What do we intend to do with the answers once we get them? How do we trust the answers we get? How do we discern the garbage?" The list of questions can go on. Big data can't give us big answers or great insight unless we are modeling creating powerful questions. Big data can give us great insight and fantastic answers. Likewise, big data can point us in the wrong direction causing us to do terribly stupid things. Ask bas questions, do analysis on flawed assumptions and premises, big data will always give you an answer-but it could be a stupid answer. Many years ago, I was part of the founding team of a "big data company." We had a fantastic analytic tool, it could provide all sorts of fantastic insights and answers. It was really a breakthrough technology. Our sales people and modelers could demo the system to customers, giving them insights they had never seen before. Customers couldn't provide purchase orders fast enough. We shipped the product to the initial customers. Anxiously. we monitored the results. Pretty soon the complaints and questions came flowing in. See the problem was, customers couldn't come up with the important questions or problems they wanted to solve. Actually, they could, they had the high level questions, but they couldn't express them and model them in ways that would produce meaningful results. They didn't have the skills, analytic capabilities, or tools to leverage the power of our analytic engine. We ended up having to "ship" analysts and modelers with each installation-helping customer construct the questions, build the models, develop the big questions. So I get the power of big data, I get the potential of the tools. I don't need to hear a about this any more. What I really want to learn about is the big questions. How do we develop them? How do we model them? How do we interpret the results? What do we do with the results? I want to hear someone say, "We wanted to learn these things about our customers, prospects, and markets--this is why we wanted to learn these things--this is how we tested our models-these are the alternative models/questions we considered--this is what we are doing with the insights we got. Technology and tools make big data relatively easy. But they don't help a whole lot with the big questions. That's where the work is, that's what drives the insights, that's what makes big data valuable.
Over the next several months, I'll be interviewing a number of Sales Operations and Sales Enablement executives. I believe these roles are critical in understanding and driving sales performance. Field sales managers focus on their teams. They want to maximize the performance of each person on the team and of the team, as a whole. They focus on the numbers-is the team performing at a level to achieve their numbers? Sales Operations and Sales Enablement executives view the organization through a different lens. They have the opportunity to look at the sales organization as a whole. They look at all the teams, they interface with marketing and other parts of the organization. Where the field sales executive is focused on the customer and her team, the Sales Operations executive has a broader view of how all the pieces/parts fit together. Some months ago, I started talking to a number of different Sales Operations executives, getting their views about the future of sales performance. I started recording the conversations-less in a formal interview sense, but more to allow you to "eavesdrop" on a thoughtful discussion. So these interviews weren't really done for the "audience," but more just as an opportunity to learn and explore. Consequently, you will notice some "rough spots," in the discussion. I'm deeply honored to have Tony Walker, Vice President of Global Sales Operations for Enterasys kick off this series. Enterasys is a fascinating organization. Enterasys is truly a social business-a business that is driven by the customer. The commitment to the customer dominates every conversation you have with anyone at Enterasys. Tony demonstrates the intensity of focus on the customer in everything he says. But his customer is not just the end customer. His customers are the sales people, managers, and teams. His customers are marketing, customer service, and the other Enterasys organizations that support sales. About a month ago, Tony and I had a conversation about Sales Operations, it's role in the organization, and things that Tony sees as important in helping sales teams perform at their best. I hope you enjoy "listening in" to our conversation as much as I enjoyed having it. Finally, to Tony, thanks so much for taking the time to speak!
I'm a great advocate of RADICAL SIMPLIFICATION. Our worlds are too complex, we seem to keep piling things onto everything we've done in the past. New programs, new processes, new systems, new tools, new training. Layer upon layer accumulates, confusing sales people-what do I do? Which strategy should I follow, do I use this approach or another? It goes on and on…… Too often, however, in response to this complexity and all the "tools" that have been put in place to manage complexity, instead of simplification, we dumb things down. We make it so we don't have to think, analyze, question, respond.
We have scripts, very complex scripts, branching to handle any customer situation. We listen only to know which branch in the script to follow-not to understand the customer. We have playbooks, guiding us through every twist and turn of the customer buying process. We have endless sources of content, with tools telling us which piece is best at which time, based on reactions to all other customers. We have software systems and tools, prompting us what to do next for every customer situation we've anticipated.All of it works until the customer goes off script, until they ask something, do something, or have a need that's not covered by all our scripts, tools, or processes. Then we are lost. We don't have a playbook to handle the situation, we don't have a branch on our script that says "listen to the customer, hear what they are saying." From the customer point of view, there's an emptiness. They feel like they are being handled, rather than being engaged. They feel like they are being managed, rather than being heard. The magic of tools, checklists, processes and training is they free us to think better. They help us engage, hear, and understand the customer. They should provide a foundation to help us adapt and respond, not be captive to the checklist. It's a fine line, top performers leverage these tools to help them think, analyze, connect and engage. They use these tools to help them be better and to improve their efficiency. Then there are the others-those applying them blindly without thinking or engaging. Those who use the tools as the excuse for non performance. Which category do you fall in? Do they help you think? Or are they a crutch? As a manager, are you providing these to free your people up or are you making your sales people automatons?
In my post, "SOLVING OUR PROBLEMS," TIM FOSTER reminded me of something the folks at THE TAS GROUP say, "The impact on the customer of a bad buying decision is usually greater than the impact of the lost sale to the sales person." It's something few of us think about, but we need to remind ourselves everyday. The risk to the customer in making a bad buying decision can be very high. The risks far exceed what they pay for the product and the revenue we might get. To the customer it might mean: A project failure. The customer is buying our product to achieve some goals. If they make the wrong decision, they may not achieve the goals they expected. The customer may have chosen the wrong component part for a new product, they miss their product launch, they have to redesign and correct the product, increasing their expense. They've lost revenue they had counted on for the product launch. Or the customer implements a new manufacturing system, and they don't get the manufacturing productivity improvements they want. A failure in serving their customers. What we sell, may be critical in what the customer is doing with their customers. Our product may be an embedded part or component. If they choose the wrong one, they may have product failures with their customers--creating unhappy customers, warranty returns, bad references, lost revenue opportunities, lost reputations. In the worst, it can create lawsuits and other serious exposures. Loss of their own job. If they make a bad decision, if they fail to meet the goals they had committed to, if the failure is bigger, impacting their customers, and so forth, they may lose their job! Many people in the organization may lose their jobs! Failure of the company. Sometimes the wrong buying decision may have a serious impact on the company performance overall, impacting the viability of the company, itself. Take a look at the battery supply problems for Fisker Automotive. While the failure of their supplier to deliver (and the failure of that company, itself) may not have been the only reason to the demise of Fisker, it was certainly one of the factors that accelerated Fisker's demise. The customer ALWAYS has more at risk than the sales person does. We may lose an order and some revenue. We seldom lose a job for losing a single order. We seldom put our company's viability at risk for losing a single order. But we have much less at stake than the buyer. So when we get frustrated with the pace at which the customer is moving. When we wish they would just get on with buying, just out yourself in the customer's shoes--what do they lose if they make a bad decision? For us it's a deal, for them, the consequences can be far greater.
I've been having trouble with a sales person. He's someone I've done business with a few times before. It started a few months ago. He sold my wife her last car. He knows her lease is coming to an end in July. A few months ago, he politely called me (wonder why he didn't call my wife) asking our intentions at the end of the lease. I told him, "She loves the car, she'll probably buy the current model at the end of her current lease. Why don't you ask her?" He politely asked, "Would you make sure to call me when you want to get the new car?" I responded we would and we concluded the conversation. A couple days later, he calls me. I noticed it was the end of the month. "We have a great promotion on that model of car right now! You can get the new model with no penalty…….." I knew he wanted to make a deal now, I knew he had to make his numbers. I thanked him for the call, but said that we really didn't want to replace her current car until July. I said, "Please, we'll talk to you in July, don't worry. Just don't bother us until then." I still wondered why he was talking to my wife-who is the decision maker for this purchase. But I figured I was saving her some aggravation. Guess what, toward the end of the next month, there was a replay of the same conversation of the previous month. This time, I was a little less polite. "We will talk to you when we are going to buy a car. I just don't want you bothering me until then. Please don't call us until July!" Guess what happened the end of last month? Yes, the phone rang, I picked it up, the moment I heard his voice I interrupted. "How many times do I have to tell you this. We are not interested in a car until July. I've told you this several times before, but you are ignoring what we want. So here's the bottom line, I don't want to hear from you again. We will not buy a car from you. We will find another dealership. If I ever hear from you again, I will call the owner of the dealership!" While this is a bit dramatic, it's not all that uncommon. The problem was, this sales person was more concerned about solving his problem-making his number, than he was about solving our problem. In the end, his focus on his issues caused him to lose the whole deal. Too often, we find ourselves in similar positions. We're behind on our numbers, our managers are pressuring us, our pipeline's a light, we need to make something happen. We start focusing on our problem-we need to close deals. It's all about understanding what's really important, focusing all our attention and energy on that-eliminating all other distractions. Our job as sales professionals is to maximize our value creation and differentiation with current and prospective customers. The moment our focus shifts from this -- we actually start reducing our ability to be successful in achieving our objectives. It happens in many ways, often in just small things, sometimes unconsciously. In the example above, the sale person had created, through past relationships and attentiveness, enough value that we intended to buy the car from him. Once he knew that, his goal shifted to buying the car on a schedule that served him rather than serving us. He has lost our business (and referral business forever). The problem about pushing for the order prematurely, is obvious-we know how that works. But there are other things that go wrong when we focus on solving our problems: Our funnels are light, we need more in our funnel-we set out to solve our funnel/pipeline problem. We relax our qualification criteria, we fill our funnel, we've solved that problem--but the quality of the funnel has plummeted. Our win rates go down, our ability to connect in relevant ways with the customer goes down (because we're chasing the wrong customer). Customers don't want to see us. We try to fix this by casting an even wider net. We go into a death spiral. We don't have enough time to do everything that we need to. Rather than focusing and eliminating time drains, we solve our problem, we don't prepare for calls and meetings with the customer. We waste the customer's time, hurt our relationship. We fail to accomplish what we should, so we have to schedule another call to correct the situation--creating more pressure on our time. We may thrash about trying to do more stuff, but the quality of our activity is bad, it's unfocused, we end up wasting the customer time and ours. Pretty soon, all these things pile up on us--we're too busy, we're chasing deals--bad deals, we aren't closing business, we aren't creating differentiated value for the customer, we aren't making our numbers-which was the problem we were trying to solve. It seems counterintuitive, but we always solve our problems by focusing on the customer and solving the customer's problems. But there are some caveats to this: * Are we working with the right customers and prospects? * Do they have a real problem to solve and a great sense of urgency in solving their problem? * Do we have a superior solution to their problems? Can we differentiate our offering in ways meaningful and valuable to them? * Does the customer consider us a serious alternative to solving their problem? If we focus on these customers-or finding them, it's amazing, it always enables us to solve our problems. We stop wasting time on chasing bad deals (and annoying those customers). We move the customer to buying, not because we need the order, but they need to achieve the outcomes. Narrowing our focus, increasing our ability to spend time with a high quality set of opportunities, intensifying our conversations around what they want to achieve and assuring they "buy it," always produce outcomes that solve our problems.
What do you see in this picture? It's a very famous-some people see an old woman, others see a young woman. Some of you may just be able to s__ee one image, you'll have to ask me for clues for the other. Even though I knew there were two different images in this picture, it took me a long time to "find" the old woman (tells you where my mind is at). However hard I stared at the picture, however hard I tried to block the image of the younger woman, I really had difficulty finding the older woman. After a few minutes, I finally had the "aha" moment. After that, it was amazing, I could switch my focus-I could look at the younger woman, then change my focus to look at the older woman-then go back. But I had to train myself to look at things differently and to look at different things. I think buying and selling is often very much like this picture. We and the customer are looking at the same thing. But what we see is completely different. We may be looking at the younger woman, the customer may just see the older woman. We talk with the customer, we both are looking at the same thing, we are hearing the same thing, but we are really disconnected and talking about something that's completely different. Even though we know we are supposed to see things through the "buyer's eyes," and understand the customer's point of view, the harder we look the more difficult it becomes. We stare at the picture, we cover one eye, then the other. We turn it upside down, but all we can see is the "young woman." As hard as we try, all we see is our solution. We think we are seeing things from the customer's point of view, but we are just seeing our solution. We are genuinely trying, but we are just blind. The customer has the same problem, even if they are trying to "see" and understand our solution, all they "see" is the "old woman." In our best sales form, we try to get them to understand, but they don't. We get frustrated, they get frustrated, we aren't connecting. This problem is not just limited to buyer-seller relationships. Managers-subordinates don't connect. Sales and marketing don't connect. We all look at the same things, we all genuinely try to see the other picture, but we just see what we see and not what the other person sees. It gets more complicated: We may be seeing things differently. To see things differently, we have to be seeing the same thing-but interpreting them differently. Is the young woman pretty? Is she elegant? We are see the same image, but have different points of view or assessments of the same image. At least we can discuss these differences in interpretation and reconcile them. But the more difficult challenge is when we are looking at different things. We may never recognize it. Until we do, we can never align or connect. We will talk past each other, we frustrate each other, and waste time. All unintentionally, we just don't recognize we are seeing different things. And too often, we are unconscious. We may not even recognize there is a different picture. We may not recognize that customer, our manager, and others may be looking at the same thing, but seeing different things. Or we may not care. To be successful in whatever we do, whether it's working with a customer to solve a problem, or a manager coaching someone, or trying to align sales and marketing, we have to recognize that we all see things differently and may be seeing different things. Before we can connect, communicate, and make progress, we have to first make sure we're seeing the same thing. We may see things differently, but we have a basis for understanding the differences and reconciling them. How do we do this? _PUTTING OURSELVES IN THE OTHER PERSON'S SHOES IS ONE APPROACH._ We have to understand who they are, their role, what they do, what they value, their attitudes, behaviors, what turns them on, what pisses them off, and so forth. We have to invest in understanding the person. Also, hopefully, they invest in understanding us-but that's not necessarily their obligation in a buyer/seller relationship. We have to understand their company, their industry, their role. I have a natural affinity with CEO's, VP"s of Sales, VP's of Marketing, and Sales People. I've held those jobs. I understand the pressures, the challenges, I can bond with them easily and more easily see what they see-often because I've seen similar things. But I also can connect with VP's of Engineering and Manufacturing. I can connect with CFO's. I can connect with Procurement Professionals, even though I've never held those jobs. I've taken the time to study and learn. I take every opportunity to talk with them, to follow them around and to try to see things through their eyes. It's not always perfect, but I can more easily see what they see. _SETTING ASIDE OUR OWN POINTS OF VIEW_ is another critical way to see the other person's picture. Our own point of view prevents us from seeing other's and other pictures. We have to be able to set our own views aside. We think our products and solutions are the best. We can't ever imagine someone thinking otherwise. We see things "with an agenda." Until we set that aside, we're trapped and blind. _ASKING FOR HELP, ASKING THEM TO SHOW YOU THEIR PICTURE VIVIDLY_. It sounds obvious, but we often don't do it. Truthfully, I needed help to see the "Old woman" in the picture. I was in a meeting and puzzling over the picture. Finally, I asked someone, "Do you see the old lady in the picture?" The person said yes, then started tracing the old woman's face-here's her scarf, eyes, nose, chin……. It became obvious. Yet too often, we don't take the time to ask someone to describe their picture vividly. We don't probe and really understand it. We need to take the time, we need to be vulnerable and ask. We need to listen openly and without an agenda. It's a very difficult challenge. But we have to recognize it-and that it impacts everyone. We may be looking at the same picture, but we see different things and we see things differently. Until we recognize and address this, we will never succeed.
As much as sales people try to sell solutions or sell value, too often they fall back on great products. They focus on product, features, functions, feeds and speeds. Recently, I saw a "sales playbook" from an enterprise software company. It was 121 pages, of feature by feature comparison of their product to competition, "Our date field is structured this way, which is better than the competitors………" Too often, particularly with organizations with great, hot, or complex products, our selling is really about the product and nothing else. We limit ourselves, we frustrate the customers. As great as our products may be, for the customer it's not about the product. We work with lots of organizations whose products have become commodities. Some of them sell sand--well, it's silicon for semiconductors. Others sell basic materials like chemicals. They face the ultimate selling challenge--how do you differentiate your solutions when your product is not differentiated? How would you change how you sell when you are selling sand? When your product is not different than the product your competitor sells, how do you set yourself apart, maintain your margins, and win business from someone else that's selling exactly the same product? What's amazing, by circumstance, these sales people understand it's not about the product. That customers buy for a huge number of reasons that have nothing to do with the product that you are selling. These sales people sell differently. I never see PowerPoint decks proclaiming the features, functions, feeds and speeds about why the beach they got their sand from is better than the beach competitors get their sand from (I can imagine the beaches in Fiji being decimated.) I never see 121 page playbooks talking about the molecular superiority of their sand. They realize the customer is buying much more than the product. There are all sorts of things beyond the product that are important to the customer. It may be supply chain management, logistics services, reliability of supply, risk mitigation. They focus on the entire customer buying experience, making it easy for the customer to buy. They exploit intriguing strategic alliances, perhaps coming up with unique formulations that help their customers better service their customers. While their product is consumed in manufacturing, they work with design to make sure the product is being utilized as efficiently and effectively as possible. And often, they realize it's the sales person herself that's the differentiator. When your product is a commodity, you have to create value and differentiation on things other than the product you ship. How you sell, and what you sell changes profoundly. How would your selling change if you sold sand? Now imagine you have a great and differentiated product. What if you are selling complex enterprise software, a complex manufacturing or design system, professional services, something else? How would your competitiveness change if you combined the lessons one learns from selling sand, with a great and differentiated solution? You would become unbeatable! You will have broken the magic code--one that customers tell us every day, but we don't listen to, what the customer buys is not just about the product. It's about so much more. Any time you are struggling in differentiating your solutions to the customer. Imagine your product is sand. Imagine your product is exactly the same as all others your customer is considering. Now what do you do? How do you create value, how do you differentiate yourself, how do you get your customer to buy you? If you need help, just ask your customer. They really don't care about the product, they care about what they are buying. Could you sell sand? (Today, Matt Heinz wrote a related article you should read, THE COMMODITY SALE IS DEAD. Thanks for the inspiration Matt.)
We all have them, Questions We're Afraid To Ask. They're obvious, but we're afraid to ask them. Will we offend the customer? Will they make us look stupid? Are we afraid of the answer we might get? Not asking these questions are what holds us back. Usually, they involve a root issue-not asking them holds us back. We may be chasing a bad opportunity, we may be missing something fundamental, we may be making an error, we may not be contributing in the most important way possible. Almost always, the question is obvious. It's staring us in the face, we know it's the question we have to ask, but we are afraid to. It's amazing, when we finally screw up the courage to ask the question, how much it opens things up. It clears the air, it's immediately freeing-we can now talk about what's really important, we've removed that block that's stood between us, the customer, and moving forward. I see these questions every time I do a review with someone. They never bring up the question, they talk about everything except the question. When I ask them about it, the response is, "Can I really ask that question?" Here are some that I've encountered: "Do you have a real need to buy?" Actually, this is my shorthand, it's almost never posed this way. In qualification and actually through the sales process it keeps popping up. We've engaged a customer, they seem interested in talking to us, they seem interested in learning and getting information-but things don't move forward. It just seems to be one nice conversation after another. We suspect they may not be doing anything, at least soon. We begin to wonder what it takes to move the deal forward, when they are going to buy. We have them in our pipeline, we dutifully updated CRM and review things with our manager. We strategize getting them to move forward. How do we create that compelling event of reason to get them to make a decision. When what we really need to do is ask them, "Do you have a real need to buy?" We're afraid to ask that question, particularly later in the sales cycle. We're afraid of the answer-it might be, "No." We've invested a lot of time in the customer, they have invested time in us. We will pursue a deal forever, rather than face a thoughtful discussion that might end up with, "Now that we talk about it, we really don't have a compelling need to buy right now." "Why would you possibly be interested in doing business with us?" I encounter this often. Typically, there is an incumbent competitor. They have served the customer well. They have a strong offering, the customer seems happy, or at least we have never asked. Or we may be a small player competing against a much larger and very capable competitor. We have good meetings with the customer, but something just doesn't seem right. In our deepest thoughts, we wonder, "Why would they possibly want to do business with us?" When we are honest with ourselves, we think if we were in their shoes, we wouldn't change from the current vendors--the risks are too high, the costs are too much, there just isn't a compelling reason. We're afraid to ask that question, because, they might say, "You know you are right. There is no reason to change." On the other hand, we have the opportunity to learn where they are really concerned, what they are really unhappy with, why they want to consider changing, why they want to look at buying from us. Years ago, I was working with a team on a very large deal. They had the opportunity to displace an incumbent vendor. The customer had $100′s of millions invested--between systems, programming, process changes, and so forth. The decision maker was the keynote speaker at the upcoming user group meeting. In our internal planning session, I posed the question, "Why would the consider changing?" The response was, "We don't know, but they are talking to us, let's not rock the boat!" I persisted, saying that it really didn't make sense to change-as good as my client's solutions were, putting myself in the customer's shoes, based on what we knew, a change just didn't make sense. In the end, they invited me to accompany them on a call on the decision maker. Eventually, I posed the question. The flood gates opened. It turns out the customer was very unhappy, but the team didn't know because they never asked the obvious question. Once the customer was given the opportunity to talk, he told them precisely how to win the business-which they ultimately achieved. Many years ago, we won a huge piece of business, competing with a very large, well known consulting firm. I was so thankful in getting the business, but was afraid to ask "why did you choose us?" Eventually, I had the courage to ask this. The response startled me. It wasn't what I expected, but the single thing that caused us to win that business has become a cornerstone to our business and success. Had I never asked the question, I wouldn't have learned something that has been key to our growth and differentiation for the past 10 years. There are many other questions we are afraid to ask: * What did we do wrong? Why did we lose your business? * What could we do better or differently? * What should we change? * Do we make a difference? Have we delivered to your expectations? We're often afraid to ask the important, obvious questions, so we never do. We move forward, blindly, hopefully. We don't ask, often because we are afraid of the answer. But when we do, there is immediate clarity. There is a path forward. While we may not like the answers we get, we can take action. If we ask the question, "Do you really have a need to buy," and the answer is "No," we can stop wasting our time and the customer's. If we ask, "Why would you ever consider buying from us," and they say, "You know, you're right, we really shouldn't change at this time." We stop wasting our time and the customer's. Without asking these tough questions, we tend to fool ourselves. Without being asked these tough questions, the customers may be fooling themselves as well. Asking, answering, discussing these tough questions brings great clarity and simplifies everything. Think about those tough deals that are stalled. What is the question you are afraid to ask? Go ask it immediately. The answer, good or bad is the answer you need to move forward. What are the questions you are afraid to ask? I'd love to learn.
Today, I read probably the most impactful posts I've read in months. It's entitled STUMPED, by MARK MCCARTHY. It's simply brilliant, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not reading it. I won't do it justice, but I wanted to add my thoughts to Mark's. As sales professionals, we think we have to have all the answers. The customer has a question-we leap to answer, sometimes not really answering the customer's real question. We find customers who have problems, we have all the answers--now if only we can get them to buy. In reality, our customers have very difficult challenges and tough issues. Answers are not always easy to find. Being constrained with having to "have the answer" limits us and our ability to create value for the customer. Being forced to always have the answers limits our ability to engage the customer. It limits our ability to discover and innovate along side the customer, collaborating in figuring out solutions to really tough problems. Being stumped with the customer changes the conversation, it changes the interaction. It creates a bond, a shared purpose, and an intimacy that is difficult to achieve otherwise. To be stumped with the customer requires great confidence on the part of the sales person. It requires us to admit our vulnerability, it means admitting, "This is a really tough problem. I don't have the answers, but I think we can figure it out together." It's hard for anyone, much less sales people, to admit vulnerability. It takes great courage and confidence. At the same time, it takes great insight, knowledge and credibility. While you and the customer may be stumped, the customer must have the confidence that we can solve it together. They must have the willingness to want to solve the problem with you. Without great confidence, courage, knowledge, and credibility, they will, rightfully so, not be willing to collaborate in solving the problem. Being stumped and seeking to understand and develop answers challenges us. It stretches us and the customer. It causes us to grow and learn. Innovation and creativity have their roots in being stumped. Being stumped when we should have answers is stupid. It's lack of preparation, it's not having the knowledge we should have. It's unprofessional and a waste of everyone's time. Being stumped on truly difficult issues and working with the customer to solve them is a blessing. It changes both the customer and us. We innovate, we create, we grow, we learn -- together. We collaborate, creating solutions we couldn't have imagined otherwise. When were you last stumped? If it's been a long time, maybe you aren't stretching yourself enough. Mark, thanks so much for sharing your brilliant article!