The problem is, the deeper you go into your solution, the more and more disengaged I become. At first, there’s some eye contact, polite nodding, and the occasional grunt of acknowledgment. Then, I begin looking at my watch and, longingly, at the door as I plan my escape. What you hear as appreciation and agreement to your proposed next step is, in fact, an end to our discussion so that I can get back to my real work — and sincere doubt about whether I will subject myself again to this “death by 1,000 facts.”
So, what happened here? On the positive side, I believed enough in you and your organization to ask for your point of view, your recommendation, or maybe even a formal proposal. On the negative side, your ideas — while technically brilliant — failed to resonate with me.
Why did your brilliant idea fall flat? In order to answer this important question, we need to recognize that there are three basic elements to communicating a brilliant idea that commands the client’s attention:
1) Articulating the client’s challenging issue(s),
2) Outlining the elements of your relevant solution, and
3) Connecting the dots between your solution and how it creates value for the client.
Most sales professionals recognize these three basic elements but miss understanding which elements are most important to the client. Of the three elements, sales professionals are magnetically attached, and can speak chapter and verse, to #2. This is natural — it’s their comfort zone. What most fail to realize is that, of the three elements mentioned above, the client is far more interested in #1 and #3. Skimming over or ignoring these conveys to your client two things about you — you don’t understand or care about either the issues they face and/or how your solution benefits them. The client’s disengagement was a symptom that your message was generic; it failed to align with the client’s challenging issues and/or to connect the dots between your solution and how it impacts your client’s business.
So, as you prepare for your next important meeting or sales call with a key existing or prospective client, let’s review what you need to know about the three elements so that you position your brilliant ideas effectively.
What is driving your client’s interest in taking time away from other work to talk with you? While there are many client contacts who will always accept an invitation to lunch or a round of golf, decision makers and influencers are busy. The more significant the size and scope of their responsibilities, the busier they are. Key contacts are focused on solving challenging issues that are preventing their organization from achieving its short-term objectives and long-term business goals. Time is their scarcest resource.
In order to be able to articulate the client’s challenging issues, you need to know (not think you know, not assume you know) what they are. Uncover this key information by asking questions to understand the organization’s objectives and initiatives, who is driving them, and why. How have the client stakeholders prioritized certain strategic initiatives versus others, and why? You should also discover what stake your contact has in the success or failure of specific initiatives.
You work in a technical business; your organization’s products and services are complex. As a seasoned professional, you have thousands of facts you could call upon in describing your solution. Out of all these facts, which will be relevant to your client? For example, if your work is systems consulting and you learned that data security is your contact’s challenging issue because of a breach last month, you might conclude that the relevant facts to this client were how your approach, software, risk controls, and services would have responded to that same breach. In addition, you could describe a similar client situation and the actions you took to address their priority issues.
In the meeting, this would sound like, “Here are the three key parts of the solution we would recommend in order to address your challenge around preventing a data breach: …”
The key is to select only those facts and features of your products and services, and/or those success stories, that are relevant to the client’s challenging issues — nothing more and nothing less.
Value to the Client
Many sales professionals leave it to the client to attach a value to their solution. In so doing, you leave it to chance that the client will see the full impact of your proposal. You should use specific data (% growth, $ savings, % profit margins, etc.) to support your claims. Another way to position benefits is through success stories and using specific names where appropriate and describing the company or industry or using aggregate experience where not.
Here is an example of how you could connect the dots between your solution and its value to the client: “We have worked with six organizations this year that have faced a similar issue. The solution we proposed produced an average of $650,000/year in measurable savings to each organization.”
Increase Client Engagement
What if you are unclear on any of the three elements — issues, solution, or value? This happens. If you don’t know key information about these three elements, you’re not ready to meet with your client. If this is business you want, invest in deeper discovery before discussing a solution. The most common mistake professionals make is moving to positioning a solution too soon. This typically results in a loss in credibility and/or a negative outcome when they try to close.
So, before your next important meeting, show some compassion for your prospective clients — instead of unleashing upon them a fury of facts, make sure you first know their specific need and then position well-organized and relevant insights using the three steps above. Your client will appreciate it!