You’re really just looking for problems that haven’t been solved yet.” That was the advice of my first sales manager as to the best way to sell office products. It would constitute the bulk of what would pass for both sales and product training before I was turned loose to find customers whose office workers surely needed my company to deliver them from the grip of inferior office machines that were the source of their inefficiency and despair.
My first boss was always parsing out morsels like that one, as if from some sort of sales manager’s PEZ dispenser. Another of his pearls that has stayed with me over the years is, “Timid sales people have skinny kids.” There is at least a grain of wisdom in both of those timeless assertions and I’m pleased to tell you that all these years later, my kids are well fed. But along with a few nutritional basics, I’ve also learned that finding problems that haven’t been solved yet isn’t always enough. Sometimes it’s necessary to raise a little awareness as to the severity of the problem along the way.
A friend of mine who sells mobility products, I’ll call him Bill, recently shared a story with me that illustrates exactly what I mean. Bill had spent months trying to sell a particular mobility solution to an electric company who he felt certain had a problem that his products could solve. The company employed over a dozen electricians who drove vans with the owner’s name and logo on them to and from work assignments. Since time is money, as they say, not to mention fuel, parts, maintenance, and insurance, Bill thought the owner of this particular company would appreciate knowing exactly where all of his electricians and vans were at any time, a capability his product could provide. Seemed logical to Bill, but each conversation with his prospect would end with the mantra of the unconvinced buyer – I’ll think about it. Clearly, his prospect didn’t believe the problem warranted the level of attention that Bill figured it would.
Then one Saturday, Bill and his wife were in the car heading out for a day at the lake. They were about twenty miles from home when one of the electrician’s vans passed them on the highway TOWING A BOAT! Bill’s wife used his phone to snap a photo of the rouge electrician; Bill pulled the car over at the first opportunity and emailed the picture to his prospect.
Within minutes, the owner texted him back, “How fast can you get the tracking service installed?” Not “How much does it cost?” or “Can you send me a proposal?” just when can I get it. Somehow the electrician’s priorities had been reset. Bill had made him aware that he not only had a problem that hadn’t been solved yet, but that the problem was more severe than he’d previously thought. The combination of the problem, the impact of that problem on the business, and Bill’s solution finally gave his prospect a compelling reason to buy.
That’s usually the way it works. Since change itself has the potential to be disruptive, businesses tend to maintain status quo until there is a compelling reason to do things a little differently. And for most people, that compelling reason comes down to the awareness of a problem serious enough to cause the business some heartache. Identifying the cause of that heartache and offering a solution is the way in which sellers truly bring value to the relationship and ultimately position themselves as a partner with their customers.
I’m not aware of any tracking systems that would actually enable a salesperson to know where all of his or her prospects are. At least none that are legal. But knowing where the problems are likely to be is a great place to start.