Other companies will also have good products. They will also be able to offer good services, possibly even as good as those offered by your company. We hear the term “solution” often today. It may even be overused, particularly as a fancier and quicker way of saying “product or service.”
The way to make a sale today is to convince the client that your “solution” actually is a solution — that it actually solves a problem your careful research has identified. You start with planning, creating what might best be called a flexible contextual relationship with the client. You work with the client collaboratively to create value for their organization and make them more successful. You become a valued partner, helping the client identify needs as well as just finding places — hopefully your company — where the client can meet the needs.
All too often, sales professionals build account plans only in terms of what they can sell the customer instead of what the customer really needs. What customers really need is a strategic partner who can dig deep into their business to analyze the current situation, identify the possibilities, and pursue relevant opportunities.
When you view a major account from your customer’s perspective, you find more ways to significantly enhance performance. When you can link your solutions, making them real solutions (that solve problems) to your customer’s goals, to your customer’s objectives, and to your customer’s challenging issues, you build your personal brand as a trusted advisor rather than just a product provider. You build your company’s reputation as a place where people solve problems.
One complicating factor in dealing with customers is that a customer is not just a monolithic body where one approach and one focus will be sufficient. There is a good chance that your customer will have one decision maker who can say “yes.” But even here, he or she will have other opinions to take into account. You must be able to consider the perspectives of many stakeholders within your customer’s organization. At a basic level, executives have similar goals: to make money, to save money, and to manage risk. But, the way they think about achieving these goals differs depending on their function. So, if you view each interaction through the lens of functional focus on what each stakeholder does, you gain greater credibility and relevance to these stakeholders.
Take, for example, the goal of increasing organic growth by 8% over two years. A CEO might focus on enhancing the company’s profile with key constituencies. A CFO might raise capital to finance a special project with growth potential. An R&D leader might accelerate the development of new products. All have the goal of making more money, yet each has a different functional strategy to get there.
You have to be able to speak their language and relate to their world to gain credibility and build trust. This will enable you to earn the right to demonstrate how you can bring value to the table. You need to view the situation through their functional lens and prepare for meetings and presentations accordingly, planning to be both relevant and meaningful.
Understanding the different perspectives and what each executive cares about allows you to be more effective in tailoring your message to each stakeholder’s interests. Otherwise, with a more generic approach, your presentations will be less relevant and less useful to everyone.
Businesses today are facing more volatility, ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty than ever before. If you can demonstrate a keen understanding of your customers’ issues — and align yourself with their goals and strategies — you have a much better chance of helping them become more successful. This makes you more successful — today and into the future.