Every sales method at some point demands that customer pain points be identified. The "I" in MEDDIC for example stands for "Identify Pain" - that is: a link to business and even personal consequences, and a compelling event. Other methods like TAS touch on unique business value and emphasize the need to learn how the customer defines it.
Pain points or drivers are not just organizational targets or project goals; they are also individual topics that drive only our contact person, like reputation, career, project success - even finding their way back a regular good night's sleep.
Clear as day - or is it not? Although understanding driving forces is so vital to building a solution at all worthy of the name, we all have the hardest time getting to the bottom of things.
Why is that so hard and how can it get easier? Unlike in private life, in business we often don't listen to understand: we listen to reply.
Why do we think we need to reply? Because we tend to talk about our solution or product for that matter far too early in the process - and find ourselves on the defensive side without even having grasped the full picture.
Why did we talk product so early? Because that is exactly what we are being trained to do and what we're good at. How many product management / product marketing sessions did you get YTD? What do they typically teach us?
They're all very valid - the question is when to use that knowledge.
When we talk to customers, here is what we often do, even if we're just about to get to know them: we go over the requirements rather quickly, even impatiently. We can’t wait to position our USPs. And if at some point we manage to drop USPs #1-3 our brain is constantly busy trying to find that spot where we can place USP #4 and #5. Even if the customer is talking, all we do is filter the input for another starting point.
We're not listening - we talk product and solution far too early, and we make ourselves a target for critical questions from the customer, which we then need to reply to.
Here is what we ought to do: we need to turn that USP switch in our heads off. Totally.
If the customer did not see you and your company as a worthy partner to help solve problems, you would not have this appointment. So stop sending - and stop thinking about how, where and why your product or solution might be a match.
Become genuinely interested in the person you talk to.
Now this is important: you cannot fake that, so it's not about appearing interested – it's about being interested. You need to become truly open to learn what is on your customers mind. So ask questions that begin with a "W" – and also: allow the customer to determine the direction the conversation goes. No ulterior motives at this time - and (almost) no steering.
You may encounter that the topic driving your customer at this point is one that you just can’t help him with – like his 15 year old having the wrong kind of friends. Show respect nonetheless and give this topic room – and only after a good amount of time carefully change the subject asking what else was on their mind.
You may encounter that the issue your customer talks about surprises you, but you may be able to help, just in a much different way than you expected.
You may encounter that the issue driving your customer nuts is one that you can actually solve for him - even in an elegant way.
In any case: it is a worthwhile conversation to have and any of the three possible outcomes this will establish a relationship built on trust.
And if later you come up with a solution - or even better: develop a solution together with your customer - it will be one that considers their pain points better than anyone. And there will be plenty of opportunity to mention all the USP. Then - not earlier.
Our brain is made for stories. Stories have been told long before writing was even invented. In fact reading is such a new ability in human evolution that there is no 'reading area' in our brains. http://www.mpi.nl/news/even-learning-to-read-in-your-thirties-profoundly-transforms-brain-networks
Stories activate imagination and create images in our audiences minds - which is a far more effective way of communicating than just stating facts.
So why is it still so hard to do it - even after people have gone through trainings?
My take: because most of us put the bar too high. We like the idea and then rack our brains trying to find the perfect analogy. I only encountered one or two of such perfect stories. One was about an archival solution reducing the working set of daily backup operations. The story was about that guy who owns about 20 suits, would wear 2-3 of them during the week, but every Saturday he'd bring all 20 to dry cleaning. Maybe a bit too shallow for a technical audience, but the less technical C-level or purchase person will immediately get it.
Here is the thing: how hard is it to find such an analogy? It's very hard - in fact so hard that rather than telling a story, we keep trying to find the perfect thing, usually don't come to results, and miss the opportunity of telling a story all together.
My advice: do not try to come up with the perfect thing. Just start activating the imagination of your listeners with metaphoric and figurative language - and just put it into a story format:
"Ladies and gentlemen, before we get into details, I'd like to tell you a little story about my last project at a big bank. The gentleman in charge for security - an extremely sympathetic person and very appreciated by his people - did not find much sleep in months, the business put a lot of pressure on him demanding new functionality by the day, and when he was on standby he got called in on 20 weekends in a row. One day the following happened (...) When we got involved we found this (...) Here is how we went about it..."
It is the format that will immediately create images in your listeners brains. Some say that pure facts reach about 7% of the brains attention - whereas such images bring you to about 60% with far more brain areas activated on the topic you want to tell your customer about.
Neuro-science and psychology define priming as follows: "An implicit unconscious memory effect that leads to implicit memory formation and can decisively determine a subsequent action."
Some nice experiments have been published - one of them goes like this: 2 groups of people have to bring the words of certain proverbs into the right order: “dog - raining - cats - it’s - and" and the like. The first group got neutral proverbs, the second one got proverbs with words in them like “old, wise, gray, slow, idleness” etc.
When the subjects thought the test was over and only the questionnaire had yet to be thrown into the urn, scientists measured the average time the participants needed from their room down the long aisle to where the urn was located.
Repeatable! Always a big time delta. The hidden words alone cause such a significant effect. You cannot overestimate the effect of priming for presentations and moderation: If sales or presales say things like "I see no problems" or "I don’t expect any difficulties" - then like it or not the priming effect for customers is:
Problems and difficulties !
Why intros matter!
Why do airline captains wear uniforms? They could operate the plane safely with jeans and t-shirt. Why do doctors display their diploma on the wall of their medical practice? Because they not only need their clients to trust them - they even need the trust before the actual flight or medical treatment starts. Why? Because they want to be picked as the airline or medical professional of choice way before (e.g. at booking time). So credibility, authority and expertise before the show are key.
Now imagine a sales rep introducing “his” System Engineer to a customer.
Version 1: “I have brought you my colleague Thomas, who will take you through the presentation”
Version 2: “I am delighted that I could win my colleague Thomas to join us today. He is a member of our analytics swat team and our #1 expert for cognitive solutions in the healthcare space. Thomas has successfully designed numerous big data applications for cancer research projects across Europe and he will remain assigned for the entire duration of this project, should you decide in our favour”
Which version signals more credibility, expertise and authority to you?
The art of persuasiveness does not only have to do with how you talk – but also how you’re being introduced. Make sure your presales people never allow a lousy introduction and increase their impact big time.