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Next Step: Solution Formulators

As a next step with our clients, we usually begin to develop questioning templates, which we call Solution Formulators, or SFs.

We recommend that Marketing take responsibility for developing these materials and maintaining them. They represent the core content of a company's Sales-Primed Communications, and they give selling organizations the ability to influence the conversations that their salespeople have with buyers. Simply put, they constitute a sort of road map for a salesperson—a tool that he or she can use to lead a specific job title to a specific vision of using the company's offering to achieve a specific goal.

Unlike a movie, where the writer and director exert full control over the interactions among the actors, no dialogue between a buyer and seller will go absolutely according to a script or a plan. Instead, our approach is about increasing the odds in the salesperson's favor by setting the stage for a Targeted Conversation. If a seller can approach a call with a clear idea of (1) who he or she is talking to and (2) where he or she hopes the conversation will wind up, the chances improve. On average, the seller will make better calls.[1]

Solution Formulators, as noted, are the core content of a company's Sales-Primed Communications. So it may surprise you to learn that the messaging in SFs takes the form of questions. Why? Because questions keep salespeople from "telling." As long as they are asking intelligent questions that their buyer is capable of answering, they are not selling (at least in the buyer's mind). They are consulting. This is a welcome change for the buyer, and also for the seller.

We believe the role of the salesperson is to become a buying facilitator by leading the buyer with questions that are biased toward their particular offering. SFs help develop "buyer visions" that have a bias in favor of your offering.

Some people have difficulty with the term bias, feeling that it implies a manipulation of the buyer. We disagree. When we talk about creating a bias, we mean that the salesperson should be making an attempt to help the buyer put his or her stated goal in a context in which the seller's offering will help the buyer achieve that goal. It's something analogous to trying on a new pair of running shoes to solve the problem of recurring blisters. If the shoe fits, great. If the seller's offering doesn't fit the problem as defined by the user, then the "opportunity" should be disqualified.

Here's another analogy: Let's say you injured your back, and you consulted with three doctors—one trained in the United States, another in China, and a third in Sweden. Most likely, their methods of treating you would vary enormously, based on their training and experience. And most likely, each would attempt to create in you a bias in favor of his or her specific therapies. Are they manipulating you? No. They are offering solutions based on how they have been successful in treating similar conditions in the past. They are attempting to help you solve your problem (very patient-focused). And ultimately, you will choose your doctor based on the trust and confidence the doctor created during the diagnosis.

Once you have created your Targeted Conversations List for a given offering, you are ready to create Sales-Primed Communications, in the form of SFs. You do this by assembling four components: offering, industry, title, and goal. Using an example from the list developed above, the result would look like the following:


CRM Software


Fortune 1000 Company




Improve forecasting accuracy

The next step is to position your offerings. With the CFO's goal of improving forecasting accuracy in mind, you now identify all the features of your CRM software that could be used to achieve this goal. As you do so, keep in mind that up at the CFO's 30,000-foot level, multiple features are likely to merge into one overarching feature, and/or that there may be features that are vital to users but will be of no interest to a senior executive. We recommend distilling your features down to your top four.

That said, here is an example, with the features that could be helpful to a CFO wanting to improve forecasting accuracy highlighted in italic type:

Password administration

Single view across platforms

24/7 access

Contact information

Account history

Cross selling

Standard milestones

Political mapping

Electronic coaching

Historical close rates

Lead tracking

Passing of leads

Analysis of past campaigns

And so on, ad nauseam

This may seem like a small step, but we believe it is a significant one. It is the start of positioning the CRM offering in a way that is targeted on a specific conversation—and is being done on behalf of the salesperson. In the same way that a tailor takes a client's measurements prior to an initial fitting, this is an attempt to put some structure around the prospective conversation by identifying the parts of the CRM offering most likely to be relevant to a CFO who wants to improve forecasting accuracy.

Nearly as important are the features not chosen for a potential conversation. They have been eliminated because they have little potential relevance to the topic of forecasting accuracy. Note, too, that they probably are not of interest to a CFO under most conceivable circumstances. Discussing them with a CFO is likely to confuse the buyer, waste time, and/or cause a seller to be delegated to a lower level. Even though this exercise so far has done executive buyers of the world a tremendous service, there is still work to be done.

[1]The phrase "better calls" involves a subjective judgment, but in Chapter 12 - Qualifying Buyers, we'll show you a more objective way to debrief and assess calls.

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