Looking for Problems
“You’re really just looking for problems that haven’t been solved yet.” That was the sales advice of my first sales manager. He wanted to offer me the best way to sell office products. Unfortunately, this constituted the bulk of sales and product training. I was then turned loose to find customers. Ideal prospects needed deliverance from the grip of inferior office machines. Inadequate tech was the source of their inefficiency and despair.
My first boss always parsed out morsels like that. It was as if his mouth was a generic PEZ dispenser. Another of his pearls has stayed with me over the years. “Timid salespeople have skinny kids.” There is at least a grain of wisdom in these timeless assertions. However, I’m pleased to tell you that my kids are well fed. Along with a few nutritional basics, I’ve learned that finding problems that haven’t been solved yet isn’t always enough. Sometimes it’s also necessary to raise awareness of the severity of the problem.
A friend of mine sells mobility products. I’ll call him Bill. He recently shared a story with me that illustrates exactly what I mean. Bill spent months trying to sell a particular mobility solution. His prospect was an electric company. Bill felt certain their company had a problem that his products could solve. The company employed over a dozen electricians. They each drove vans with the company’s logo.
Sales Advice 101: Time is Money
We all know the saying, “Time is money.” But there’s also fuel, parts, maintenance, and insurance to consider. Bill thought the company’s owner would appreciate knowing the exact location of his electricians’ vans at any time. This was a capability his product provided. Simply put, it seemed logical to Bill. However, each conversation with his prospect ended with the same mantra. “I’ll think about it.” Clearly, Bill’s prospect didn’t believe he had a problem.
That Saturday, Bill and his wife were driving to a nearby lake. On the way, one of the electrician’s vans passed them on the highway. Surprisingly, they were TOWING A BOAT! Bill’s wife snapped 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?” He didn’t ask how much it cost. Moreover, he didn’t request a proposal. All he wanted to know was when he could get it. Somehow, the electrician’s priorities were reset. Bill had highlighted a serious problem for the owner. In fact, the problem was more severe than he 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.
Change itself has the potential to be disruptive. Consequentially, businesses tend to maintain the 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. So 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. However, if you are looking for sales advice, knowing where the problems are likely to be is a great place to start.