Thursday, August 26, 2010

Don't Just "Sell the Problem", Quantify It

I recently read a great blog post, Sell the Problem, by renowned Marketing Guru and Author Seth Godin. In this article Seth explains how "No business buys a solution for a problem they don't have." And yet, so many B2B marketers launch into presenting the cool features and functions of their product, without taking the time to understand if the person on the other end of the conversation/call/letter believes they even have a problem that the product hopes to solve.

According to Mr. Godin, When a prospect comes to the table and says, "we have a problem," then you're both on the same side of the table when it comes time to solve it. On the other hand, if they're at the table because you're persistent or charming, the only problem they have is, "how do I get out of here."

The Product Selling approach, pitching prospects on the features, functions and price of the solution, relies on the buyer first understanding their problem, that the problem is a priority, and then relies on the buyer making the connection of how your solution can solve the issues they have. This is a big leap to expect any buyer to take, and few make it, leading to stalled sales processes, and elongated sales cycles.

The good news is that many B2B marketers have recognized the issues with the Product Selling approach and have advanced to a Solution Selling approach. Solution Selling involves understanding buyer pain points, an inquiry of "what keeps the buyer up at night", and mapping solutions to the pain points. The issue with this approach is that it relies on the buyer to accurately know and communicate their issues. Too often however, we find that buyers are struggling with too few resources and information overload, and as a result,  they are often unaware of serious issues they have, or the prioritization of these issues.

Today's buyer is in need of a more proactive engagement, one that provides consultative diagnostic assistance. This approach is called Value Selling, where the dialogue seeks to illuminate issues the prospect didn't even know they had, much as a doctor diagnosis a patient based on indicative symptoms.

So what does this approach look like in practice? Seth explained a great example, of how an architectural firm was struggling to sell space utilization optimization services. The challenge to the architectural firms was that more often than not, the prospects didn't think they had space allocation problem, and as a result, weren't looking for a solution, and weren't receptive to meetings / proposals.

Pitching the services fell on buyers who didn't  think solving space utilization issues was a priority, so what could the architectural firm do to "sell the problem"? "As Mr. Godin indicates, the solution resided in the paradox, "a lot of people aren't willing to embrace that they have a problem unless they also believe that there's a solution... so part of selling a problem is hinting that there's a solution that others are using, or is right around the corner.".

"Imagine, for example, getting the data and publishing a list of the top 50 firms, ranked by efficiency of space use. All of a sudden, the bottom half of the list realizes that yes, in fact, they have something that they need to work on. If you knew that your firm was paying twice as much per associate as the competition, you'd realize that there's a problem." according to Mr. Godin.

The solution Mr Godin proposed was to not just to highlight the problem, but to QUANTIFY the problem to the prospect. By using a Value Selling approach and benchmarking the prospect against competitors , not only could the salesperson highlight the problem, that the prospect was not utilizing space as well as others were, but the sales person quantified how bad the problem was on a per capita usage basis. A baseline for which the prospect could readily compare and relate. And in today's "age of austerity", where all prospects care about the bottom-line, overspending compared to the competition needs to be addressed. With quantified benchmarks not only could the prospect clearly understand the problem, but the benchmarks illuminated the severity of the issue and that others have solved the problem better than they have.

For more information on Value Selling solutions for B2B marketers visit: http://www.alinean.com/DemandGeneration.asp

Seth Godin's original blog article can be found at: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/08/sell-the-problem.html

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