Thursday, July 11, 2013

The New Salesman: Solution Seller vs. Problem Finder

Getting There First and Don’t Be a Problem Solver

Special Note:
While this method solves the problem,
it requires little skill or forward thinking.
This story takes 3 minutes to read. If you are in a time crunch, skip the story and jump to the moral of the story.

A few years ago we studied the Mechatronics Industry, which is the marriage of mechanical systems (gears, belts, electric motors and hydraulics) and electronic systems (computers,

PLC’s, sensors and digital screens). Along the way, our work discovered mechanical distributors were almost always the first to learn of customer projects. Why? Customers designed mechanical portions of their system ahead of the electronic portion.

In all but a few situations, the mechanics were engineered 60-90 days ahead of electronic controls.

We believed this gave the person selling both the mechanical components and electronic controls a competitive advantage over a “controls only” seller. Knowing about and working on solutions for the customer 90 days ahead of the competition should allow for better positioning (no pun intended) of products and unique solutions.

We were wrong. After discussions with dozens of sellers, we discovered only a few were able to capitalize on the time advantage.

The vast majority of the sellers were addressing customer problems as they surfaced. It was a serial sequence. Issues solved one at a time over a period of a few weeks. For instance, on day one the customer needed a couple of gears and the salesperson quickly identified the proper catalog number for the application. The next day, the customer needed a timing belt to connect to one of the gears. Again, the salesperson identified the proper belt.

It was as if each situation was a stand-alone event. The customer identified the problem and the salesperson found a solution to the problem. Many even referred to their practice as solution selling. And, in a purely linguistic way, they were correct. But, I think they were missing a point.

The best sellers (and small group were did use the competitive advantage) are more than problem solvers. They are problem finders and forecasters of future issues. Let’s take a look at how this same story works out for salespeople who work the “Problem Finder Beat.”
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Again, we dig into the same situation: Mechatronic applications. The salesperson talking about the mechanics realizes some aspects of the design need special consideration in the electronic controls. They temporarily stop forward momentum and present anticipated problems to the customer.

A conversation might go like this:
“Ms. Customer, if you go in this direction with your mechanical design, you will need to be prepared for an oversized control box. I can look into the deliveries now, because some of them require 12-week lead times.”

The salesperson anticipated a problem (before the customer recognized they had one) and set herself up for future success. The customer feels lucky that an unanticipated issue was avoided. A bullet was dodged. Future risk on this project was averted. And, most importantly, the customer views the seller as a valuable ally in future designs.

And Finally
A question from the author. Did you read the story or skip straight to the moral?

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Marshall Perez said...

What and how are two words great problem finders use.

They avoid the why word.

Why do sails suck? vs. What are we doing now to grow revenue and how is it working.

What else can we do and how can we measure if it is having the impact we need. vs. Why is revenue not growing?

Good sales people ask what and how questions to help define the problem and keep asking until they gain agreement on what is the problem. They never offer solutions before making certain the real problem is identified and understood.

Hill said...

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