People ask me why I focus so much on prospects’ objectives, after all if you can find a pain and play to it, you are bound to get a sale. Well maybe. I always find it amusing that when I ask people what do they want to know about a potential buyer, too many say “I want to know what their pain point is, their needs, the problem”. When I ask what they want to achieve in a first/second meeting with a prospect, they start gushing on about wanting to establish a relationship. One guy at an IT consulting/systems integrator, said this to me literally when I asked what his goal is for a first meeting: “I want to find the soft underbelly of the beast; stab it; then serve up the cure”. While you may be shaking your head, and rightfully so, I hear this same type of thing said differently by so many in sales, including pundits, I worry.
You Don’t Have To Hurt The Ones You Love
So maybe I am missing the point, but how does one go from poking (or probing) for pain, latent or other, and in the space of one hour or so go to forming a relationship? Maybe it is a Bizarro sales version of the Stockholm Syndrome. How else can you explain the expectation that one can search for or deliver pain with a blunt instrument, and establish rapport or a relationship, even if you hand out Aspirins.What I see as being more effective, even with buyers who are screaming with pain, is to focus the buyer on a point down the road, a point in time 18 – 24 months in the future. You want the buyer to “see” themselves, their aspirations and their opportunities in your narrative and experience. Your ability to create an authoritative dialogue aligned with their objectives, based on specific instances where you have enabled and enhanced clients’ ability to reach their long term objectives, but to speak convincingly about specific impacts and outcomes.
While there is no doubt that in the near term pain relief is paramount, it does beg the question what then? Pain is short term, usually negative, and limiting. While objectives are long term, tied to other initiatives, uplifting and positive, and as a result have an energy “pain” and “needs” don’t.
By marginalising the “pain”, and focusing on the big picture beyond the current pain, you can create a level of involvement and emotional commitment that is not available when it’s only about solving an immediate problem. Long term relationships should be tied to the long term, be that goals, objectives, etc. Clearly you want to address and resolve immediate “problems”, but you need to position that is but a small line item in a much bigger plan. To do that, you need to open up the conversation to align it with the big picture. As mentioned, pain discussions are narrow and limiting, so in conversation with a client, assume you will solve the problem, and steer towards the long term.
I have written about this in the past, but I find a two-part question to be an effective way of practicing and fine tuning this. You will need to make it more specific to your buyers over time, but use this as a primer.
Once you get past the usual social element at start of the meeting, ask:
I am curious Jane, if we were sitting here 18 months from now, and you were telling me your team had hit a grand slam, what would that look like?
The goal is to get them to look past their current positions pain or perhaps problem, and refocus the on their success plan, hence the grand slam reference. You’ll find that there is a moment of reflection, a couple of basic things, and then it gets interesting when they start detailing what their equivalent of a grand slam is. Once you have let them share their vision, you really do need to shut up here and intensely listen, you can the ask the second question:
Help me understand why we are not there now?
You will often find that they reflect again, and start telling you about what’s keeping them from hitting grand slam. What you’ll also find is that they will talk about many of the same things you have helped other achieve, and build a relationship around.