The final element in the foundation of a profession is its system. A system, in this broad sense, is an organized process and set procedures that lead to a predictable result. Our approach is based on observations of successful sales professionals.
This approach offers us a platform on which to understand and integrate our professional skills. This represents a quantum leap beyond typical sales training, which is usually skill-based and which leaves salespeople with a briefcase full of tools, but no systematic way to apply them to achieve their ultimate goal.
Our method is a metaprocess, one that can be overlaid on any transformative sale. It provides a navigable path from the first step of identifying potential customers, through the sale itself and onto expanding and retaining profitable customer relationships. It is a system that encompasses all of the critical activities of the sales professional and provides the decision-making assistance that customers involved in a tricky business decision so desperately need.
As we see in Chapter 9, it is also an extended process that ranges from product inception to customer consumption. It can be used to enhance the communication and integration between major business functions, from product development to marketing, to sales, service, and support.
Because this method covers the entire profession of transformative selling, it naturally encompasses a great deal of information. To facilitate comprehension and ease of use, we divided the process into four subsystems or phases. The phases of the process are related in a linear fashion and are organized by the major activity that is undertaken in each specific phase. They are Discover, Diagnose, Design, and Deliver (see Figure 3.3).
Discover is about research and preparation. It encompasses how salespeople get ready to engage and serve customers. Everyone who sells starts at the same point—the identification of a customer. In conventional sales, this is called prospecting and qualification, which, unfortunately, is often characterized by minimal preparation. In Discover, however, we expand the preparation into a process, which is aimed at the identification of a specific customer who has the highest probability of change.
Discover means pushing beyond the traditional boundaries of prospecting to create a solid foundation on which to build a long-term, profitable relationship. It recognizes the fact that every qualified prospect will not become a customer. It embraces that realization by actively looking for reasons to disqualify a prospect and by refusing to unnecessarily waste the time and resources of the prospect or the sales professional.
The tasks in the Discover process include precontact research of potential customers and their industry. Discover also includes the preparation of an engagement strategy, which includes an introduction, some basic assumptions about the value that could be created, and a conversational bridge designed for that specific customer. In addition, it includes the initial contact with the prospective customer, during which this information is communicated. Customer and salesperson mutually decide whether the sales process should continue.
In the Discover phase, as in each succeeding phase of this process, salespeople are actively building a perception of themselves in the customer's mind. In this case, that perception is one of professionalism. We want customers to understand that mutual respect and trust govern our relationship. We want them to see us as competent, well versed in their business, and a source of competitive advantage.
The Diagnose stage encompasses how salespeople help their prospects and customers fully comprehend the inefficiencies and performance gaps. It is a process of hyperqualification during which we pursue an in-depth determination of the extent and financial impact of their problems.
Most selling methodologies recognize the importance of understanding customers' problems and, accordingly, often tack some form of needs analysis onto their process. However, the true intention of needs analysis is usually subverted. First, we find that it is used to get the customer to make observations and reach conclusions. In essence, customers are asked to diagnose themselves: What are your issues and what are you looking for? Second, the questions salespeople ask their customers are more often about the customer's buying process than their situation: What are you looking for, who will make the decision, when will you make the decision, how much do you want to spend? Finally, and in the worst cases, needs analysis is used as a highly biased review to justify the salesperson's solutions.
With our method, diagnosis is not subordinate to solutions or the sale. It is meant to maximize customers' objective awareness of their dissatisfaction, whether that dissatisfaction supports the salesperson's offerings or not.
In the Diagnose phase, the process most radically diverges from conventional selling. Our research tells us that during a well-executed diagnostic process, the customer makes the decision to buy and from whom to buy. In the more traditional approach, salespeople are looking for this decision after the presentation and during "the close." Therefore, in the Diagnose phase, the most critical elements of the transformative sale occur.
The salesperson's tasks during the Diagnose phase begin when we shift the emphasis of our fact finding to focusing on the customer's internal issues. At this point, we need to deepen our understanding of our customers' business, their job responsibilities, perspectives, and concerns. Diagnosis also includes measuring the assumptions about customers' problems that we presented in the Discover phase against the reality of the situation and quantifying the actual cost of the problem. It includes a collaborative effort to evolve a comprehensive view of the problem to customers, thus allowing them to make an informed decision as to whether they need to change.
In the Diagnose phase, we want our customers to perceive us as credible. We establish our credibility by our ability to identify, evaluate, and communicate the sources and intensity of their problems, as well as helping them recognize opportunities they are not aware of. We reinforce that credibility by refusing to alter the customer's reality to fit our own needs.
Design encompasses how salespeople help the customer create and understand the solution. It is a collaborative and highly interactive effort to help customers sort through their expectations and alternatives to arrive at an optimal solution.
In a more conventional sales approach, design equals presentation, and, in presentation, the customer is not involved in the design of the solution. As a result, they do not develop a significant degree of ownership of that solution. The conventional salesperson may say, "This is the product we offer that is best suited to your situation." Then they proceed to reel off a litany of features and technical information specific to that solution.
In our process, however, the Design phase is not focused on a specific solution. Its goal is to get salespeople and customers working together to identify the optimal solution to the problems that were uncovered and quantified in the Diagnose phase.
There is an important distinction here. An optimal solution does not mean the product or service that we are charged with selling right now is best suited to the customer's problem. Rather, the optimal solution is a series of product or service parameters that minimizes the customer's risk of change and optimizes return on investment. By staying true to the objective of a quality business decision, where that solution will be found is a secondary consideration at this stage in the decision process.
The tasks included in the Design phase are aimed at establishing and understanding the decision criteria the customer will use to find a solution to the problem. This aim requires us to establish the solution results the customer would expect, the quantifiable business values for those outcomes (and thus, the available funding for the acquisition of the solution), and the timing in which it must be delivered. We manage customer expectations during the Design process by introducing and exploring alternatives, including solutions offered by competitors. We also teach customers the questions they should be asking of all potential suppliers to assure their quality decision.
In the Design phase, we want our customers to perceive a high degree of integrity in all our behaviors. We establish our integrity by creating a solution framework that best solves their problems. It frames a set of decision criteria that we would use to determine what to select for ourselves or would recommend without hesitating, if our best friends were experiencing this particular problem. The conclusion of the Design phase is what we call a discussion document. This document provides a summary of the diagnosis with a "pencil sketch" of the solution. It is used to do a final sanity check before completing a formal proposal and presentation. It is the dress rehearsal, your final run through, and it assures there will be no surprises during the final presentation.
In the final phase of the process, the work of the previous phases comes to fruition. It encompasses how the salesperson assures the customer's success in executing the solution.
While the conventional sales process forces salespeople to overcome objections and try to close the sale, the diagnostic approach allows customers to evolve their own decisions. Customers who have traveled through this process have a clear understanding of their problems, and they know what the best solution will look like. In fact, they are coauthors of that solution. Salespeople who use this process and have not disqualified the customer by this point in the process experience exceptional conversion ratios. That is why we say that the ultimate goal in the Deliver phase is to maximize the customer's awareness of the value derived from the solution that is being implemented.
The tasks in the Deliver phase begin with the preparation and presentation of a formal proposal and the customer's official acceptance of the solution. The next steps include the delivery and support of the solution and the measurement and evaluation of the results that have been delivered. The final task of the Deliver phase is the maintenance and growth of our relationship with the customer.
In the Deliver phase, we want our customers to perceive us as dependable. We literally do what we said we were going to do. As we complete the sale, our customers should be thinking: You are there for me; you will take care of me; I can depend on you.
The four phases of this method represent a reengineering of the conventional sales process. The process eliminates the inherent flaws in conventional sales processes and directly addresses the challenges that salespeople face while trying to master transformative sales in today's marketplace.
The topics covered herein concern solution sales, consultative sales, and consultative selling.