Sometimes we have challenges, but we don’t do anything about them. Other times our challenges are so urgent we take immediate action. In most cases, assuming you are meeting with a qualified buyer and ask enough questions, you can help the buyer identify a problem.
But is identifying a problem enough to get a buyer to take action? Most sales professionals lose deals to the status quo. In other words, the buyer decides not to take any action in spite of the fact they have some type of problem.
So why do buyers choose to live with issues? While they may offer up many reasons – no budget, not a priority, I’m too busy – the reality is that buyers don’t take action when they don’t have a strong enough rason for doing so.
And that's an all too common trap for unskilled sellers: talking about their solution too early. Successful sales professionals first help the buyer develop the reason for taking action before talking about their own solution.
How Buyers Think About Challenges
In order to understand how you can help your buyers develop a reason for taking action, you need to consider the psychology of how we change and why we don’t. As humans we like constancy and familiarity, to differing degrees we resist change as it makes our lives less certain and complex. So, we need a significant incentive to even think about changing.
For B-2-B buyers this process involves predictable steps where buyers start by thinking about the problem and then move to considering what solving the problem will look like. This process looks as follows:
- Step 1: Identify the problem. This part is simple: the buyer first recognizes that they have a problem. As a sales professional, this means asking need related questions to help the buyer uncover his or her problem. For example, is that a challenge? Or, what concerns do you have?
- Step 2: Quantify the problem. Once a problem has been identified, the buyer starts quantifying the problem by considering what the problem costs them in terms of additional expense or lost opportunity. In many cases, quantifying problems is not obvious, so as a sales professional it is on you to help your buyer think through these issues. In particular when the problem is something less tangible such as increased risk and quantification is inherently more difficult. Another areas of inquiry you should explore with your buyer is whether the problem is getting worse and by how much.
- Step 3: Connect the problem. Often times a buyer’s problem may also impact other areas of their business and the value they see in solving it. Considering such implications leads to a growing realization on the part of the buyer that he or she will have to solve the problem. This is where you need to have a deep understanding of the buyer’s business in order to ask thought provoking questions.
For example, if you solve this problem, who else in the organization will benefit? Or, you could ask, what are your top three challenges that this problem is connected with?
- Step 4: Prioritize the problem. Now that the buyer has considered the magnitude of the problem and how it impacts other parts of the business, the buyer will start thinking about the importance of solving the issue. Why solve this problem as opposed to all the other challenges they have on their plate? If they decide this is the problem to solve, they move to the next step.
- Step 5: Consider a solution. This is where the buyer typically first starts thinking about how to solve the problem. At this point, they are not ready to have a highly detailed discussion regarding what a solution will look like, rather the buyer is concerned about high level issues such as timing, implementation, demands on internal resources, and budget. It is at this point competitive activity will be highest as buyers have many choices open to them many of which could solve their problem. Therefore, you need to know where you stand with the buyer by asking direct questions such as “based on timing and resourcing what is your preferred solution?”
- Step 6: Consider other company implications. In the final stage, the buyer looks at company issues such as the broader value of the solution (e.g., competitive advantage) and how to gather support for the solution within the organization.
Be “In-Harmony” with Your Buyer
As you help your buyer through this process it is critical to your success is staying “in-harmony” with the buyer through each stage, not jumping ahead and discussing solutions before the buyer is ready. For example, asking “How useful is do you think this solution would be?” when they are not even sure it’s a big enough problem to solve.
Staying in-harmony with your buyer means you need to tailor your questions to which stage they are in and listen for signs of movement to the next stage. This will require careful pre-call planning and research, and asking different questions for different purposes. Doing so will enable you to identify and close gaps in your knowledge of the Buyer both in terms of their challenges, opportunities and how they prioritize their problems and needs.
This will also demonstrate to the buyer that you are more concerned with their well-being than your own. This approach is inherently more consultative which means you are positioning yourself as being seen as an “advisor” not just a seller.