Move from product functionality to insight
Recently I was doing a workshop with a very good sales team. We were talking about how to engage prospects and customers more effectively. They have enthusiastically embraced the idea that we need to talk about what interests customers; we need to involve customers in issues that are critical to them and their business.
But then we decided to put these principles into practice. We started to look at the conversations we needed to have with prospects. As good as this team was, they always started with, “Our products do these things…”.
Even if they tried to get stuck, they always started the discussion with a description of the product’s capabilities. Some of them have tried to convert these features into discovery questions. They started asking, “Do you need a product with these capabilities…? “
“You always talk about your product,” I said, “how do you ask the question differently, focusing on what might be going on with their business that might cause them to need a solution that offers these capabilities? “
The team struggled for a few minutes, they kept asking product driven questions. They were getting a little frustrated, I kept pushing them, “What makes the customer need these abilities?” I pushed them further: “You have to discuss the problem without ever talking about a solution or a product. You need to understand the business problem that might cause them to have a need. You need to understand the impact of this problem on what they do! “
They kept trying, they were getting good at asking discovery questions, but they were all focused on the capabilities of the product. Suddenly a salesperson was frustrated with my sting. He said, “The reason they need these abilities is that these things are happening in their business ……”
It was a breakthrough! The group finally understood. We did the exercise again, the discovery questions had changed. They have now focused on identifying specific trade issues. They went further, asking the impact of these issues on the customer and what they were trying to do.
We have tried this experience in a number of their key solution areas. We followed the same pattern, initially they would focus on the product and its capabilities, then we would stop to think, “What has to be happening in the customer’s business for them to need this capability?” ? “
In a very short period of time, the team became nimble enough to focus their discovery questions on things that might be happening with the client that might lead to the need to consider a solution that addresses those issues.
Then I challenged them to take it one step further: “And if the customer doesn’t know they might have this problem, how do you turn those questions into information? “
They struggled with the idea, they kept asking really good business-oriented questions. Playing the client, I kept saying, “I don’t know if this is a problem with us…” Some salespeople started suggesting things we could do to find out if this was a problem.
Very soon one of the salespeople said, “We see a lot of customers like you struggling with this problem. How does this impact your business? What are you doing to deal with this? “
This was a first step in providing insight to help the customer know what similar customers were finding out, and then getting the customer to think about the issue and the impact on them.
We’ve been practicing this for a while, making the team comfortable moving from business-driven discovery questions to translating them into information. We’ve tried this approach in several of their key solution areas, quickly shifting from a focus on product functionality to a focus on business issues, to provide insight.
This is a starting point, we have a way to go to convert conversations from discussions about product features / functions to business discussions, to create discussions around ideas. But it changes the way this sales team engages its customers and prospects, especially very early in the cycle.
Try this thought experiment for yourself:
- Take one of your key solutions. Identify the top 3-5 product features or capabilities that are most important to your customer. Write them down. Write down some of the key questions you might ask a client or prospect about their needs for these abilities. It should be easy, it’s probably what you are doing right now.
- For each of these key questions, ask yourself, “What is happening in the customer’s business that might be causing the need for this capability?” There are a few rules for doing this:
- It’s never about a product or a feature of the product, so something like “I need a solution that allows me to do this …”
- It’s always about something going on in their business, usually the customer might say, “We’re having a hard time doing this ……. ; We have a hard time getting there …… .; We wish we could do it… .. ”
- Test them, they don’t have to be solution or product oriented. If so, you fall into the same product throwing trap. They should focus on identifying the main business issues, opportunities and challenges.
- Take each of these business-oriented questions, develop a few questions to explore to understand the impact of these on the customer. Some ideas:
- “How does this issue impact you / your business / your ability to achieve your goals?” “
- “How do you deal with this now?” “
- “Why is it important to watch now? “What if you don’t do anything?” “
- … .And you can continue. The goal is to really understand the impact of the issue and the need for change.
- Dealing with 1-3 can be a great first step in moving from product oriented conversations to business issue oriented conversations. But you might want to go further….
- Look at your current customers. For the business issues you’ve identified, consider the following:
- How did the issues impact them?
- Why is this important to them?
- What are they doing about it? Be careful, the answer is not “buy your products”. Focus on the challenges of change and business management?
- What do they discover in the process?
- Examine the collective trends and issues you see in customers, both those you’ve won, even those you’ve lost. How do you present this information or observations to open conversations with customers.
This is just a starting point for moving from showcasing your products and capabilities to shifting conversations to what interests the customer. It helps you translate what you may have been trained on, your products, into conversations about your customers’ business issues. They help you engage customers where they are, on what interests them, in terms that matter to them.
Once you understand these issues, it becomes much easier for you to present your abilities in the context of the things that are important to the client.
It takes practice to make it a habit. Managers, consider hosting team meetings where you can do this exercise with the team. Pick one of your solutions, list the key features and capabilities that seem to be the most important, then start to identify what might be happening to the customer that might be driving a need for those capabilities. Go through items 1 through 5, write them down, and then have the team practice their customer calls.