Sales people are often told that the key to prospecting is to find business problems that haven't been solved yet, and then demonstrate how their products or services can solve them.
That's a simple concept, and it's difficult to argue with the logic behind it. It's one that's easy to forget, though, when leadership drives sellers to focus solely on the quantity of opportunities in the funnel, rather than the quality of those opportunities.
A Missed Sales Opportunities
On a recent road trip, I was reminded first hand that sometimes all it takes to find problems that represent quality opportunities is to get out and look for them. I was working on a three-day assignment for a client and after hours one night, as I will occasionally do, I found my way to a watering hole near my hotel.
This particular bar was a fairly new brand name; one of about a dozen or so that had recently opened in that part of the country. I had come across them before when working in the area and knew I could find liquid refreshment along with some OK pub grub before calling it a night.
I took a seat at the bar and was perusing the beer menu when I noticed that the bartenders were all standing around and that every glass at the bar was empty. I was soon told that the computers were down and that as a result, they couldn't serve drinks. The computers were tied to the company's headquarters and when drinks and food orders were entered, those entries fed daily revenue reporting, inventory, supply chain, etc.
No computers, no drinks. I was also told that this seemed to happen once or twice a week. Having sold communications services myself and understanding the importance of them, even to a small chain of restaurant bars, it occurred to me that there was probably a salesperson somewhere who had sold a data network to this company - and had likely stopped right there.
Clearly this bar needed a data back-up plan that would enable it to continue to serve its customers in the event of an outage, something the seller had not bothered to recommend, or that the company had not seen the need for.
This bar was losing revenue by the minute and was paying bartenders and waitresses to do nothing. How much easier would it be for that communications salesperson to sell a data back-up plan if the parent company was aware of this recurring problem? How much easier would it be for that company to cost justify the back-up plan and buy it from him/her?
And worst of all, if you were that communications salesperson, how much easier would it be for a competitor to take away even your existing business by demonstrating how their products and services could solve your customer's problem, something you hadn't bothered to do?
Helping Prospects Avoid Problems
If we expect our customers to buy from us, then we have an obligation to help them eliminate or avoid problems like the one experienced by this bar. And making that the focus of our prospecting efforts isn't that hard to do:
- Identify the business problems your products are designed to address. Everything your company sells is in your product portfolio because it addresses one or more business issues for your customers.
- Survey your base of prospects in order to determine which ones are likely to have those problems.
- Develop a list of questions so that when you do talk with your prospects, you can determine whether they are, in fact, experiencing those problems.
So start looking for those problems that represent sales opportunities for both you and your customers. Ride along with the delivery guys. Sit in the call center. Visit the assembly line. Or sometimes, just go have a drink.