Every sales organization has a product or a service—or an entire product line or category—whose revenue they’re not quite happy with. Management then proceeds to focus on it, to direct extra effort to increasing revenue related to that relatively weak item or category. Make sure you mention those widgets to every client and prospect, they’ll advise. Be certain at least one frammus is a part of every proposal, they’ll demand. Tweet to everyone you know about our skyhook service, they’ll request. Management will, of course, start closely measuring all activity and results related to sales of this particular product, publishing and distributing those metrics widely and frequently throughout the organization.
They’ll move the needle. Revenue will tick up, but usually by less than what they hoped, less than what they projected. Reasons for the disappointment are often plenty, but one will remain undiagnosed, and thus it will be repeated again and again.
If you hound them to focus on that product, what do you think they’ll do?
Most every b2b sales organization knows it’s important to be focused on the prospect’s needs. They salute that flag every day, and to their credit many have organized their sales operation to be driven by real needs in real time. But when one product or service is a revenue laggard, these same managers lose that customer-needs focus and become product peddlers. It’s nearly inescapable: If you ask salespeople to concentrate on the digital services or the annuity lines or that one see-through office tower… that’s just what they’ll do. You asked them to focus on that product—and they became product-focused. They started chatting up that product to nearly everyone.
In doing so, they necessarily became less needs-focused. And less effective. While sales of that one product line did improve, very often overall sales didn’t. Sometimes, they even dropped.
Lock on to this perennial truth: The single best way to sell that lagging line is to find prospects who need it now.
And this one: The only way for salespeople to find prospects who need it now is with an in-depth needs analysis. (The marketing department has other ways to find those prospects, but the tool salespeople have is the needs analysis.)
When prospects are bored or befuddled, salespeople get booted.
Salespeople are at their weakest when they’re talking about their products and services. And they’re at their very weakest when they’re talking about their very weakest lines! Talking about your stuff instead of the prospect’s needs bores them or befuddles them—both of which don’t have a happy ending. That’s why The Center for Sales Strategy, since its founding over three decades ago, has been relentlessly focused on helping sales organizations evolve from a why-to-buy approach to a how-to-use approach.
The how-to-use way of selling requires an in-depth understanding of what the prospect needs to accomplish right now. The more technical and unfamiliar the product or service is, the greater the chance the prospect will be bored or befuddled—and the salesperson will be booted—if he or she talks much about that product. Instead, the seller needs to drill down on goals, objectives, problems, needs, and challenges, and to collaborate on potential solutions. Such conversations invariably find the prospect leaning in, not tuning out.
Prospects buy things they don’t understand all the time. Very few demand to understand everything they buy. The rest (a) need to know they can trust the salesperson, and (b) need to be confident that the salesperson (and others at the company who may be involved) have a crystal-clear understanding of the problem to be solved and the outcomes expected.
The more each salesperson knows about their clients’ and prospects’ needs, the more opportunities they’ll find to include products or services from that slow-selling line. And if they still can’t find opportunities to propose those products, perhaps there’s a more fundamental reason that line is lagging. No amount of management focus—whether it’s of the why-to-buy or the how-to-use type—can rescue the sales of a product or service that solves problems no one cares enough about to invest in a solution.
The next time you want to bring additional focus to bear on a slow-selling category or line, make certain you’re not sending a mixed message to your people. If you’ve trained them well to take the how-to-use approach to selling, don’t confuse them with directives and expectations that demand a reversion to a why-to-buy method when it comes to this particular product or that particular line. Not only will you be dissatisfied with the results, you’ll do longer-term damage to sales habits, client relationships, and revenue results across all lines.