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Vision Building around a Commodity

Solution Formulators can be used to facilitate virtually any sales discussion that can be distilled down to a buyer and business issue. We have worked with companies that sell what is perceived as a commodity, and—with some modifications—the vision-building model still works.

Let's say, for example, that you are a regional overnight delivery service, and you have the following differentiators when compared to national carriers:

In this case, nearly every prospect on whom you're calling is already using and familiar with one or more overnight delivery services. Many traditional salespeople would lead with price in this situation, but this is a dangerous approach. Many customers would conclude that they would receive inferior service from a previously unknown carrier who initiates a discussion based on lower price. Another problem with this approach is that it creates a commodity sale mentality. Even if successful in generating interest, the buyer is likely to invite other carriers in to have them compete on price.

In selling situations such as this, it is important to give the buyer a reason to be unhappy with the current service. This can be done by selecting a Success Story highlighting one of your strengths and one of a national carrier's potential weaknesses.

The question that follows a Success Story can't be too obvious. For example: "How do you handle your overnight deliveries today?" is so basic as to be insulting. Since most people feel they understand how to use an overnight delivery service, a more appropriate question would be: "What would it take for you to consider switching overnight delivery companies?"

After getting the buyer's response, you can then ask the usage scenario questions on the right side of the Solution Formulator, with each of them being a potential differentiator. The seven differentiators listed above would have to be chosen judiciously, based on the title and industry the salesperson is calling on. A manufacturing company may be interested in shipping pallets, but a law firm or a bank would not be. Do your homework, here: A company billing its clients on a cost plus basis might not find a lower price attractive.

Let's assume that you (again, a representative for the regional overnight delivery service described above) are calling on the office manager of a law firm. After a brief introduction and Success Story about another law firm that elected to use your service, the conversation might go as follows, using the SF shown in Figure 11-1.

Solution Formulator, Selling Overnight Delivery Services to a Law Firm

Figure 11-1:  Solution Formulator: Selling Overnight Delivery Services to a Law Firm

Salesperson: What would it take for you to consider switching overnight delivery companies?

Buyer: We're pretty satisfied with FBN Overnight Delivery's service.

Salesperson: Most people are satisfied with FBN, but let me ask: When attorneys are faced with a deadline, would it be helpful if you could arrange on-site pickups as late as 8:00 PM?

Buyer: We usually can get things done by 5:00, but 8:00 would be helpful to us.

Salesperson: When clients need quick turnaround, would you like to be able to have deliveries to them made as early as 7:30 the next morning?

Buyer: Some of our clients would want contracts or documents that early.

Salesperson: When shipping critical documents within a 300-mile radius, would you feel more comfortable having your deliveries be ground-based, and thereby bypass delays due to airport closings and similar problems?

Buyer: We really haven't had many issues related to weather delays in deliveries.

Salesperson: When shipping documents within 300 miles, would you like the ability to lower overall costs by using ground-based delivery?

Buyer: Our clients have become very cost-conscious, so we would be interested in reduced shipping costs. In fact, now that I think of it, most of our clients are local.

What's happened here? You've gotten a lukewarm response to the third usage scenario, but the buyer has responded well to the other three. After framing a question—such as, "What has been your experience with FBN's services?"—to bring the conversation to the left side of the SF, you would do the diagnosis for reasons 1, 2, and 4 to obtain details and quantification on how not having the corresponding capabilities is affecting the business manager and the law firm. After summarizing the diagnosis, you would then summarize the buyer vision and seek the buyer's agreement:

Salesperson: To summarize, if you could have the abilities to arrange pickups as late as 8:00 PM, arrange deliveries as early as 7:30 AM, and reduce the cost of next-day deliveries, then would you consider trying our service?

Buyer: Certainly I would be interested. First I want to take a further look at your company. If things check out, I would be willing to give you a try.

There is no right or wrong way to navigate an SF, provided a seller can end with a question to verify the buyer vision. Given a choice, we prefer doing the diagnosis (left side) first, but the primary consideration is being in alignment with the buyer. If a buyer already knows what he or she wants, begin with the usage scenario questions.

The purpose of the Solution Formulator is to arm sellers with artificial patience and artificial intelligence to determine which usage scenarios the buyer is likely to need, simply by asking questions. These usage scenarios become capabilities when the buyer agrees they would be useful. The final step is to see if by using all the capabilities, the buyer would be empowered to achieve the desired goal. This is accomplished by asking, "If you had (summarize the capabilities), then could you achieve (buyer goal)?"

Once a buyer vision has been created, you should see if the buyer will share any additional goals, so you can create further visions and develop associated value. After developing shared buyer goals, the next step is to begin qualifying the buyer—a critical requirement in successful selling that we'll cover in the next chapter.

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