The problem with selling solutions

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Updated Feb 12, 2015

How’s that old adage go? “People do business with people they like.” Yeah, that’s the one.

Plenty of wisdom there, right? Funny thing about old adages; they’re old.

Of course people do business with people they like. But they leave the people they like in the wake of doing business with people who bring them value.

They like people who tell funny jokes. They love people who help them make money.

Rick Farrell is president of Tangent Knowledge Systems. He’s not a revolutionary but his ideas about how customers and suppliers interact with one another — specifically how they should interact with one another — may be.

Every sales-driven organization wants to have a rich and meaningful relationship with their customers. It’s a key part of selling, right?

Farrell says it’s part of selling, just not an incredibly important part. Not in 2014.

The old ways of selling, where sales people relied heavily on relationships and sold like they are the primary source for information, are long gone.

Good and free information about all of your products is readily available on the Internet, but sales people are preconditioned that their job is to give out information.

“When customers have unlimited free access to information, the value of the information you bring has been minimized,” Farrell says. “This makes it hard for sales people to stay relevant. They had a monopoly on information. Today, in many cases, customers don’t tolerate sales calls.”

One of the more popular sales tactics is to identify your products as solutions. But if sales personnel haven’t spent any meaningful time wading though the customer’s problem, they can’t possibly understand how to solve it.

It’s at this point your salesperson be- comes a commodity. If all you bring to the table is information, you’re expendable.

“Customers rely on you for your context, not your content,” Farrell says.

If your sales people are only prepared to sell on the basis of “Here’s what I have. Here’s what it does, and here’s the list of problems it solves,” welcome to Commodity Town. Population: You.

“If you’ve become a commodity, all you have left is price,” Farrell says. “In a pure commodity business, it does not make sense to have sales people add to the cost.”

What customers really want, if they value you and if they trust you, is they  want your context. Farrell says customers want sales representatives to “ask them questions and give them perspective and make them look at things they haven’t thought of. Not necessarily to be influenced, but to be better informed.”

In a modern sales environment, the number one goal is to get your customers to share information with you, Farrell says.

“The most important information is the information (the customers) have about their problems,” Farrell says. “You can’t sell someone a solution without understanding the breadth and depth of their problem.”

A customer with no problems likely doesn’t trust you enough to share them with you. In other words, they don’t value your relationship or what you’re bringing to their business.

If you’re lucky enough to have a customer share their business problems with you, dig as deep as they’ll let you go.

“Help me understand how this problem impacts your business.”

“How long have you had this problem?”

“How have to tried to solve this problem in the past?”

“Tell me why you think that didn’t work.”

Once you’re in the business of identifying problems, you’ve become a valuable tool in the process of finding – and selling – solutions.

And you can bet your customers will like doing business with you, too.

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