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Research Triangle Business Advisors

October 2015 Newsletter


Ask ten people, “what are the basic selling principles,” and you will most likely get ten different answers.  For the past 20 years I have personally seen the successes that come from using the techniques of “Solution Selling.”  And, despite the fact that the Harvard Business Review published an article a couple of years ago saying that Solution Selling is dead – I believe otherwise.  This month’s newsletter is a refresher/reminder of basic selling principles ala Solution Selling.  More than half of these principles are often neglected by even seasoned sales professionals.  By-the-way, sales means selling your product, service, ideas, plan, or barter.


  Bob De Contreras




Basic Selling Principles

The reasons I’m a fan of the following sales principles are many, but one example may help get your attention.  At one company where we trained the entire sales and consulting staff in these principles, we were able to reduce the sales cycle from 18 months to only 6 months within 12 months of doing the sales training.  By the way, just because you do the training does not mean the sales will come in.  Management has to measure, evaluate, and redirect the sales team to adopt the principles – not an easy task.

1. No Pain No Gain.  If buyers don’t believe they have a need they will not buy.  Therefore, the first principle is to discover their need and/or develop a need that your product or service capabilities can solve.  Solve means remove a problem, reduce a cost, increase a profit, automate a manual process, etc. 

A need is usually driven by one of three events.  Something is increasing – costs, resource requirements, project duration, project scope, etc.  Something is decreasing – quality, customer satisfaction, productivity, skill level, etc.  Something is under government control – regulation, reporting requirements, safety, etc.

2. Ask Before You Tell.  Ask questions to understand the buyer’s needs, situation, and cost created by the need (you will use this to justify the cost of the product or service you are selling).  Once you understand these facts, you are able to talk about your capabilities to solve or reduce the need and the buyer is prepositioned to want a solution to their need because of your questions.  To use the doctor’s office analogy, diagnose before you prescribe.

3. Plateaus of Business Need.  A sales person’s ability to discover and/or develop the buyer’s need depends on understanding that there are three plateaus of business need. 

The lowest level is background need.  Background need is a need that is only in “back of mind” or “out of your mind.”  Usually this is because of things like the buyer tried to fix it and couldn’t, learned a friend tried to fix it and failed, or was deemed too costly to fix.

The next higher level is foreground need.  Foreground need is “top of mind” or something that is always on your mind – a big problem.  For example, something your manager brings up in every staff meeting. 

The highest level is vision of a solution.  Vision of a solution is the buyer’s view of the solution, how they will fix the need and what is needed to deliver the solution.  It’s called vision because buyers can actually see themselves solving the problem, and therefore are ready to buy whatever it takes to satisfy the need.

So, need development is not just discovering the need (through questioning), it’s also about moving the buyer’s thinking from background to foreground to vision levels of need.  The buyers will not buy until they are at the vision level.  A skill that sales people need to have is building visions with their buyers.

4. People Buy From People.  Buyers don’t buy from a proposal any more than managers hire from a resume.  People buy from people that:

     a. That are sincere

     b. That are competent

     c. That empower them (to make the buy/don’t buy decision)

     d. That understand their situation (understand their business, industry, and situation)

     e. That they like (seller worked to build a relationship with the buyer)

These attributes are very difficult for the seller to show the buyer in a written document like a proposal.

5. Sales Call Structure.  The sales call structure is important because of the impact of the items listed in the People Buy From People and Plateaus of Business Need sections above.  The structure looks like the following:

     a. Build rapport

     b. Show sincerity

     c. Show competency

     d. Buyer opens up and talks (only happens if buyer believes seller is sincere)

     e. Buyer admits need (only happens if buyer believes seller is competent)

     f. Develop need up to the vision level

6. Buyers Make Emotional Decisions.  This is best explained by a couple of examples.  If you ask someone why they bought that new Mercedes, you will get answers like: the leather seats, the comfort, features, the gas mileage, etc.  But, we all know they bought it on emotion – to get that status symbol.  Then there is the 3 pm hunger pang, a walk to the vending machine for a candy bar, the decision to not buy because you will gain weight, and finally the emotional decision to buy it anyway.  In the extreme is Donald Trump’s 757 corporate jet.  He could have gotten by with something smaller, but it was an emotional decision – for show.  Sellers have often gotten the sale because it would make the buyer “look good,” rather than the actual solution to the need – an emotional decision.

7. Strength Buys From Strength.  I’ve heard this as power buys from power.  If the seller has to call the CEO to get permission for a discount or additional consulting resources or a particular support person, it will not be long before the buyer is only talking to the CEO (the seller lost his strength).  So, to “stay in the hunt,” the seller has to be sincere, competent and show strength.

8. A Solution Must Be the Buyer’s View of the Solution.  The seller who tells a buyer what they need will not make many sales.  Consider a homework assignment I give in sales training classes:  Go home tonight and tell the person who loves you the most to do 4 things for you.  Now you can’t choose your mom, because mothers have un-conditional love – they will do anything for you.  Tell the person who loves you the most, “You need to pick up my suit at the cleaners, you need to get the car washed, you need to pick up a gift for my secretary’s birthday…”  I ask them to see what kind of reaction they get.  From their faces I can tell they already know what kind of reaction they will get.  My bottom line is, “If the person who loves you the most will not put up with your “you need,” why do you think your buyer, a stranger, will put up with it?  Never tell a buyer what they need.  Discover the buyer’s need, together with the buyer develop the buyer’s vision of the solution (using the seller’s capabilities), and empower the buyer to make the decision to buy.

9. Accept the Buyer’s View, Then Extend It.  In many situations another vendor has gotten to the buyer before you or the buyer just has their own idea of how they are going to solve the need.  In these cases the temptation is to say something like: “…that’s not the best approach, we have a better solution to your need.”  As soon as those words leave the seller’s lips the sale is lost.  The reason is that those words were heard by the buyer as, “Your idea is no good (you dummy).” 

The right approach is to agree with the buyer’s position and then work to extend the solution with the seller’s capabilities.  The seller response might say something like, “Would it also help if you were able to do XYZ,” or “How much do you think you could save if you could add XYZ to your solution?”  This discussion will lead to the buyer seeing the benefit of using the seller’s capabilities.  The implication here is that the buyer’s solution with the seller’s capabilities added is more valuable to the buyer than his solution or the other vendor’s solution.

10. Don’t Sell To Someone Who Can’t Buy.  “Buyers” below the level of Vice President usually don’t have the authorization to buy.  Of course there are some exceptions.  And, in some companies there is a “VP of Success” – a person who has so much power he can get anything he wants, no matter what level he is in the organization.  If the seller does not have access to a real buyer, someone who can authorize the check, the seller is not selling – but rather providing marketing or free consulting.  The seller can talk to the people below the buyer lever, but only for the purpose of gaining access to the real buyer – the person who is authorized to enter into a purchase contract.

11. Avoid No Decision.  Studies have shown that 15% of the time the seller wins the sale, 25% of the time the competition wins the sale, and 60% of the time the sale ends in no decision (the buyer does not buy anyone’s product of service).  The reason the no decision is one or more of the following: No need, no vision of the solution, no access to the buyer, and no value shown.  If the seller uses the principals in this newsletter their contract close rate can definitely be improved (no decision percent lowered).

In Summary, Successful sales people:

     a. Are buying facilitators – people like to buy, but don’t like to be sold.

     b. Are sincere and competent – to get the buyer talking and admitting need.

     c. Develop need and build visions of solutions using product/service capabilities.

     d. Ask before they tell – question and develop need before prescribing a solution.

     e. Don’t sell with proposals – people buy from people.

     f. Are strong – show their power in their company.

Cary | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park | Greensboro | North Carolina
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