Enable Your Salespeople to Help Buyers Stand in the Moment of Pain

By: John Kaplan on April 23rd, 2019

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Enable Your Salespeople to Help Buyers Stand in the Moment of Pain

Categories: Sales Conversation

As many of you know, my mother, Eileen Kaplan was a therapist who worked with the military. One of the greatest lessons that she taught me was making me stand in my moment of pain. This used to bug the stuffing out of me when I was younger because she always had a way of getting me to face reality. Today, as I travel around the world working with some of the coolest companies on the planet, this lesson is as relevant as ever.

The other day, I was working with a seller who seemed to be intimidated by what he did not know about his customers. I asked him a simple question, “What does a day in the life look like for your target customer?”. He really did not have a good answer. Part of this is certainly a company development issue. Every company should ensure that ALL employees have a great understanding of this. But, you know me, I was not going to let the conversation slide into the “excuse department” where I would let him get away with blaming his company for not being prepared.

I told the seller about a time when I was a young seller at Xerox and wound up in a very mature and important assignment filled with Commercial Printers. These buyers were very sophisticated and, in many cases, knew more about our value at Xerox than we did! After a few attempts to “sell” to these customers, I realized that I really did not understand their world. I was also painfully aware they knew that fact. The number one complaint that buyers have with sellers (Seller Deficit Disorder) is that sellers don’t understand the buyer’s business or pain. This has shown up over and over in surveys for the past five decades!

I knew that if I was going to be successful selling to Commercial Printers, I would have to learn their business. So I went and met with one of Xerox’s top Commercial Printers in my area and laid my cards on the table. I told the owner that I had a goal of being the top seller in my company, but in order to do that, I needed to understand exactly how Commercial Printers run their businesses, what challenges they experience, why our solutions work for them and why they are different than my competitors.

There is an old saying, “Words that are spoken from the heart, enter the heart of all who hear them”. My ask was authentic and so was my customer’s response. He allowed me to hang out in the shop all day with his team. They went above and beyond my expectation, explaining every facet of the business, where our equipment was better than we realized and where our equipment was not as good as we thought. It was awesome! The bond that I formed with that group led to some great relationships and sales over the next couple of years.

This experience solidified my mother’s lesson. How can I attempt to sell anybody anything, if I don’t first understand them from their point of view? This wisdom led us to the creation of our value-based conversation methodology in Command of the Message®. The methodology is built off the premise that you can’t tell anybody they have a problem. The more you tell someone they have a problem, the more they are going to resist you. However, the more you ask great two-sided discovery questions where the person answering learns as much as the person asking, the more that person will convince themselves that there is a problem. Without this process of self-realization by the customer, you will always have less of a chance to be successful as a seller. The most elite sellers in the world all have the ability to help a customer stand in their own moment of pain through the use of great discovery questions.

How to Get Your Customers to Stand in the Moment of Pain

Companies owe it to their sellers to prepare them with these mechanics. This is one of the reasons I love our Command of the Message solution so much. We help organizations create company-aligned answers to what we call The Four Essential Questions.

  • What problems do you solve for your customers?
  • How specifically do you solve them?
  • How do you solve them differently or better than others?
  • Where have you done it before?

Once sellers have confidence and conviction around these answers, they have the potential to be great. Power this process with great discovery questions that get the customer to participate in the conversation and contemplate the negative consequences of not addressing their problems, and sellers will have the potential to be legendary.

My final advice to the seller I was speaking with the other day was simple. First, make sure you understand what the world looks like from your customer’s point of view. Once you do that, think about all the negative consequences that occur because of their reality. Then, really take the time to prepare great discovery questions that make them stand in that moment of real pain and be quiet while they answer it.

The Power of Great Sales Discovery

We practiced a few questions and the seller struggled with closed-ended vs. open-ended questions. Closed-Ended Questions are simply questions that command a yes or no answer. They are certainly appropriate in a conversation but not when you are trying to get a customer to open up. A question like, “Is it difficult for the developers to know they are working on the latest version of code?” can be answered with a yes or no. It does not compel the customer to answer with specifics about any problems or pain. To make this open-ended, all you would need to do is change it a little, “Give me an example of the last challenge that you had on a project where developers were working with outdated code.” We call this adjustment a TED statement, which stands for “Tell me about”; “Explain for me”; “Describe for me”.

Some of you have heard me refer to the process of having people Stand In Their Moment of Pain as “ripping faces off”, “dragging them through the glass”, and “ripping the heads off chickens”. I sometimes burst out laughing thinking about how many times I have had to explain this to audiences, especially where English is not the first language. Several people have even been offended over the years by what they thought I meant. I am always trying to generate energy and excitement around being confident and convicted with these skills.

My mother taught me that great discovery is about helping people come to their own conclusions. Then, and only then, can you help a person. She was telling me that once someone admits THEY have a problem, they are in their best moment to address it. Dave Davies, COO at Force Management says it another way. People rarely argue with their own conclusions.

That's the truth and executing the process behind it is a great way to be uncommon.

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