One of the things that I see people get wrong is that they are not selling their customer the right “thing”. That probably sounds pretty silly without context, but it happens so often that it becomes one of the first things I think about when people start telling me about their trouble selling.
So, what do I mean by this?
When you listen to people talk about selling, they often start by telling you about what’s in it for them. They tell you what they are going to get out of the transaction and then they transition into some bunch of features or “things” the customer will end up with.
Very rarely does someone start by articulating the ACTUAL problem that the client is having and how their offer solves that actual problem.
Why have I emphasized “actual” in that statement?
Because most of the time, people don’t get to the heart of the prospect’s problem at a more fundamental level. They hear what the prospect “says” the problem is and they listen to what they say they “want”, but very rarely do people dig past that.
Let me give you an example.
Someone I work with was telling me about a client they were dealing with. The whole situation wasn’t going particularly well because every time this person would put a solution in front of the client, the client would say it’s not right or too complicated.
It was getting to the point where the client was complaining to the account manager that perhaps we needed to change this solution architect with another one who “got” what they were looking for.
This guy had one more chance and he wanted some help trying to understand why he kept firing wide of the mark.
I started with asking “what” the client wanted to get an understanding of what we were trying to sell at a high level. My next question was, “Why does the client want that?”
At this point, I got some reasons that were about technology and very superficial that as I assumed, were more about us and what we wanted to sell rather than what problem the client was trying to solve.
So, I asked, “Why does the client want those things? What pain point are we solving for him?”
We went through this cycle of “why” about three or four times before we got to the crux of the problem – the person we were dealing with didn’t really want to buy the solution we were offering, but his boss was leaning on him to solve something else for compliance reasons.
That was the pain this person was feeling – his boss was leaning on him and he was frustrated that he was having to do something he felt was unnecessary.
I worked with my colleague to reposition our position. We focused on doing what this guy WANTED to do but at the same time, making sure we were able to say to him, “Hey, this ticks all of your compliance boxes, so you can keep your boss happy and we can focus on delivering you the value that you feel the business needs.”
Feedback from the client? “You guys totally nailed it, this will be my business case to get approval. This is good stuff.”
The whole thing comes back to understand the ACTUAL problem that the client has as opposed to what you think the issue is.
We appealed to his baser instincts – he needed to keep his boss happy while also doing what he wanted to do.
This revised approach resolved his fear of displeasing his boss which is a powerful motivator and at the same time placated his ego by focusing on his wants once the fear was removed.
There’s no magic here, it’s just a matter of continuously asking “why” and picking apart the rationale for why the customer “thinks” they want something or worse, why you “think” they want something and exposing the real point of pain and discomfort that you can address.
I have a system that I follow based on: “what”, “how” and “why”.
You listen to “what” the client says they want. This is usually a superficial outcome or a result of some kind. Customers and prospects usually jump to the end without thinking about the entire process.
Which leads us nicely to, “how”. This is where you can talk to the prospect about the process you have to get them to their “what”. This is all about demonstrating to the other person that you not only know what they want but that you can confidently explain to them how you’ll get them there.
Finally, we have the “why”. Getting to the “why” can be an iterative process as we talked about above, but when you know the underlying reason at a more fundamentally selfish level, it becomes far easier to sell because you’re not selling to the person’s rational brain, you’re selling to their irrational mind which is far more powerful.
Here’s a simple example…
Let’s say you sell websites to people and a prospect comes to you to ask for a quote to redesign and migrate their website. They tell you it is slow and their competitors all have more modern sites.
When you present your proposed solution back to the client, you could start by talking about how you reviewed all of their main competitors as part of your research. You can tell them how the new site you’ll build for them will be faster because of some technology that you’ll apply and that everything you do will be the best of breed and modern.
And that’s a good pitch, but the gold comes next.
You’ll highlight the things that you’ll be doing better with specific reference to their competitors. You could talk about how you’re going to implement a CDN for them and use the latest caching plugins that their competitors aren’t using – not only will it be faster, but it will be better than theirs and the competitors will be playing catchup.
Why is that the “gold”?
Because your prospect isn’t concerned about modern tech, CDNs or even having a slow website. What they are afraid of is that their competitors are better than they are – it cuts them at a deep psychological level and calls into question their own self-worth.
By highlighting not only “what” and “how” you’re going to solve their problem, but by juxtaposing it against their competition, you’re addressing the most basic emotional need for this person.
And that’s the power of understanding the deeper “why”.
You can subtly push the right buttons without being overt. You are selling at two levels – one is the outcome and process level, the “stuff” the person will buy, but at a more powerful level, you’re attacking their Id.
You are going after the part of their personality that drives the pleasure and pain behaviours by weaving it into the overall narrative without calling it out. The subconscious part of the human brain where the Id lives will start pulling apart your story and finding the pieces that address the selfish needs.
The human brain is amazing and it works so quickly that the person won’t even know it’s happening.
And the best way to sell to someone is by not selling, but solving their problems.
So find out the real “why” and you’re 90% of the way there.