The Best Way to Sell a Solution? Help Your Customers Define Their Problems
I just returned from CRM Evolution in Washington D.C., an event chaired by my friend Paul Greenberg, who’s been dubbed the “Godfather of CRM” (although I’m pretty sure he’s never had anyone whacked). This event has interesting parallels to our own C3 event in that every year, the areas of interest to the attendees seem to spread – this year, encompassing CRM itself but also a host of related disciplines and technologies. CRM doesn’t and cannot succeed in a vacuum – the people who use it must create a structure for its success, just as they must for any sales and marketing tool. On Wednesday morning, Paul hosted a panel with five sales leaders from vendors selling products that help in one way or another with sales operations. There was very little overlap in what the companies did and the problems they helped addressed; CallidusCloud’s own Jamie Garverick was a member of the panel, and since the Lead to Money suite has so many capabilities, you can imagine how diverse the panel had to be to ensure there was virtually no conflict between the vendors. Listening to the panel, it became clear that the members of the panel face a challenge that all B2B sellers are starting to encounter: buyers begin the buying journey to solve a problem, but their ability to find a solution is only going to be effective if they can clearly define that problem. As they move into more complex processes – including sales and marketing – this can become challenging. Not only can a customer become focused not on a cause but on a symptom, and thus seek out the wrong technology and vendor, but vendors may find it hard to admit they aren’t an ideal answer and fail to turn down business that isn’t really right for them. In my limited sales career, my manager was adamant that my job never involved convincing a customer that they shouldn’t buy what we were selling. If they made a choice that made no sense for them, fiscally or functionally, that was the buyer’s problem, not ours. That may have made sense back then when Tears for Fears ruled the pop charts. It makes a lot less sense today, as salespeople are expected to be subject matter experts, and with that evolved role, more trustworthy advisors. Also, the economics have changed, especially for subscription sales. In that model, it takes time for a new customer to become profitable (three years for a SaaS software customer, for example). Selling the old-fashioned way is a great way to find the wrong customers and to boost your churn numbers while destroying your profitability. So, a new task is being added to sales’ role: helping the customer clearly define his or her problems. Customers are doing much more research on their own before engaging with sales, so companies who employ this practice don’t lose that many customers. They lose the ones who would be unprofitable – and they can do them a favor by helping them find the right vendor now. That has helpful implications down the road, at a time when those buyers need a solution that aligns with the solutions the more consultative vendor really sells. Think of Edmund O’Brien’s Santa Claus in “Miracle on 34th Street” steering people to a different department store for a specific toy – management was enraged at first and then realized that the goodwill generated by that gesture counter-intuitively led to increased sales.