When we do role-playing exercises in our workshops, we stress that it is equally important for our attendees to take the part of buyers as it is for them to play the role of sellers. This is the best way for them to learn to think like a buyer. What they tend to discover through that process is that buyers want to deal with sellers who (1) are sincere, (2) are competent, and (3) allow the buyer to participate in the conversation. This is a welcome change from the "Here's what you need" approach taken by traditional salespeople.
In today's competitive market, a salesperson must be sincere and competent merely to get the opportunity to compete. But that's just the price of admission. Lots of companies know how to recruit sincere and competent salespeople (at least of a traditional sort). We submit, therefore, that conversing with buyers is the most sure-fire way for sellers to differentiate themselves from the pack.
The key to further differentiation lies in making sure that buyers retain ownership of their goals, problems, and needs. One of the quickest ways for a seller to lose credibility with a buyer is to look the buyer in the eye and say that a particular offering is going to "solve your company's problems." Solving the company's problems is what the buyer and his or her colleagues are paid to do, day in and day out. They don't want to hear that someone who drops in once a month, or once a year, is going to meet all their needs. Experience has taught them that no company, salesperson, or product can take responsibility for achieving the desired business result.
Many technology companies believe they can win simply by putting a superior product on the table and talking up its features. But think about it: Doesn't this force the buyer to lose control of the conversation and talk about what you want to talk about? Yes, if you are selling to truly expert buyers, you can win with a superior product. But did you really sell anything? Or did you simply take an order from a buyer who was smart enough to figure out how to use your product? And if it were the latter, why wouldn't this savvy buyer simply purchase on-line next time, and cut you (and your associated costs) out of the loop?
It's a simple concept, but a critically important one. The buyer must own achievement of the goal. If your buyer concludes that you first understand the current situation, goals, or problems, then—and only then—you have earned yourself the opportunity to help your buyer understand how he or she can achieve the goal, or solve the problem, with the specific capabilities of your offering.