Prevent Unpaid Consulting
In the Design phase of the sale process, we focus our efforts on the solutions to our customers' problems. Model sales professionals guide the design process by managing expectations of the cast of characters. In this phase, they help their customers establish expectations about solution outcomes, determine the methods and alternatives for obtaining those outcomes, specify investment levels and implementation timing, define the criteria that will govern buying decisions, and build consensus and confirmation among the cast of characters within the customer's organization for the findings and decisions that have resulted from the diagnosis and design efforts. In short, we create and align the solution.
If you paid close attention to the preceding paragraph, you may have noticed that it says nothing about the products and services that salespeople are bringing to market. Instead, it focuses on defining the parameters of a high-quality solution. In the Design phase, we specify and confirm the customer's preferred outcomes and decision-making criteria, but we do not present solutions. This is a continuation of the spirit of partnership and collaboration that we have been building throughout the engagement.
Our methodology stands in stark contrast to conventional selling methodologies. In conventional selling, the only acceptable result of an engagement is the customer's buying the salesperson's offering. This statement dictates a fixed solution. When salespeople enter the engagement, they have this fixed end in mind: Regardless of the customer's situation and requirements, the conventional salesperson is focused on only one solution—his or her own. Given this pre-established outcome, is it any wonder that so many customers perceive sales engagements as zero-sum games and think of salespeople as being willing to use any means to achieve their ends?
Exemplary professionals approach the solution phase of the transformative sale as an exploratory process. The aim is to equip the customer to make the best, most effective choice among the solutions competing in the marketplace. This is not to say that top-notch professionals approach an engagement without a preferred solution in mind. Like other salespeople, they are in business to sell their products and services. They understand, however, that their offerings are not always the best solution for the customer, and they recommend only offerings that are in the best interests of the customer. As always, they apply the "do no harm" principle of the doctor and integrity test of the best friend. If professionals' offerings do not fill the bill, they are the first to recognize and acknowledge that fact and even recommend a more appropriate source for the required solution. In this way, sales professionals protect and retain their "valued advisor" status in the customer's mind and remain welcome to revisit the customer at a future date. At the same time, the salesperson has freed himself or herself and resources to move on to a more qualified customer.
While conventional salespeople often act as if competing solutions do not exist, successful professionals discuss solution alternatives head-on. They know that in the competitive environment of the transformative sale, customers will examine alternative solutions, and they also realize that actively participating in that examination is better than ignoring it. Given the fact that so many salespeople are afraid to act as if competing solutions exist, the open, customer-first attitude of the sales professional often becomes a positive differentiating factor in and of itself.
When salespeople do join a customer's search for the best answer to problems, they take a seat on the same side of the table and act as partners instead of adversaries. Further, model sales professionals use this opportunity to strengthen their position by ensuring that their customers can recognize the inherent advantages and disadvantages among the solution alternatives.
In a larger sense, the goal of the design phase is to minimize the risk of change for the customer. In the diagnosis phase, we maximized the customer's awareness of risk. That is, we helped them to fully comprehend the risk involved in not addressing their problems and in not changing. When that effort was successful, the customer "owned" his problem. In the design phase, which the customer enters prepared to make a change, we begin working to minimize the exposure to risk inherent in the act of changing. When this effort is successful, the customer will be happy to "own" the solution to the problem.
Customers are exposed to three kinds of solution risks, which salespeople need to consider when designing solution parameters: process risk, performance risk, and personal risk. Process risks are exposures that stem from the implementation and ongoing operation of a solution. Performance risks are exposures that stem from the outcomes produced by a solution. Personal risks are exposures that the members of the cast of characters incur when they lend their personal support to a solution. As we create and define the parameters of a high-quality solution, we need to anticipate how each of these three risks might impact the customer and be sure to communicate those exposures to the customer during the decision-making process.
To illustrate these risks, we consider financial accounting software. A process risk is the possibility that a customer buys and installs a new accounting software package, which crashes the organization's computer network. A performance risk is the possibility that the new software does not work and miscalculates the organization's financial results. A personal risk is the possibility that the problems caused by the new software cause the person who recommended the purchase to be fired or shuffled off to a much less wanted position in the organization.
Consider the risks a customer faces when buying your offerings. What are the process, performance, and personal risks? How do you address them during the sales engagement?
The topics covered herein concern solution sales, consultative sales, and consultative selling.