Asking about the value of solving a problem is critical for helping a buyer prioritize a purchase against many other competing initiatives. One of the most common obstacles to mastering consultative selling or becoming a Challenger is getting a buyer to answer a question about the value of addressing their problems. Sometimes they say they don’t know, hadn’t thought about it, or worse, challenge you on why you would need to know the answer.
I stumbled onto a way to overcome this challenge years ago while working for a small start up company. I was in the Seattle area calling on several prospects, one of which was a company called Sundstrand, the company that makes the black box recorders for the aviation industry. (You know, the box that can survive the worst air disasters, and yet for some reason, they don’t make the rest of the plane out of the same material! jk)
I was meeting with John, a senior project engineer. At some point in our dialog, John became very adamant about bringing our software on site to evaluate it before committing to a purchase. He wanted a copy asap. I agreed that would make sense, but added that I wanted to know what value my solution could provide to his company. His response, “Why would you need to know that?” I had to think on my feet, so I replied, “My management only allows me to conduct three evaluations at any given time, so I prioritize the allocation of evaluations based on which companies need it the most.” (This wasn’t exactly true when I said it, but it became my mode of operation from that point forward.)
He nodded his head and chimed in without further hesitation, “We were late on our last project for Boeing, which resulted in over one million dollars of contract penalties. My boss was fired, so now I have a new boss. I’m trying to show him if we had your software, we could avoid the same set of problems we had with the last project.”
I was elated! Even if John couldn’t get his boss to fund a purchase with this high of a value proposition, I could use the information to gain access to even higher levels of authority. In the end, I had a purchase order in less than 30 days.
Over the years, I’ve learned that you have to be ready to rationalize the reason for asking about the value of solving a problem. Here are some of my most productive approaches:
1. Combine Scarcity with Their Motivations. Just as I did with John, connect the scarcity of a requested resource to something they want. John wanted an evaluation in short order, so I connected my question to his request. If they ask for a reference, or technical support, or any of several other costly activities, use the same approach.
2. Collaborate on a Positive Outcome. This is where I usually spell out the buying process with something like, “Well, if you decide you want to buy this solution, you’re probably going to have to rationalize the reasons why for your management, otherwise you and I will spend a lot of time on this initiative and may end up getting denied just because we aren’t prepared to justify the purchase. I want to make sure we have our ducks lined up in advance.” In essence you’re offering to collaborate to help make your contact successful with their initiative.
3. When these fail, combine and elevate. Even when you master the first two approaches, you’ll undoubtedly find, as I have on many occasions, that your contact doesn’t have the knowledge or insight to answer the question. My suggestion is to fall back on number one and two above and combine with a request to meet someone who can answer the question. For example, if John couldn’t answer the question, I might have said, “well, if this evaluation is important to you, can we discuss this question with your boss, so that I can prioritize an evaluation in your favor?”
Becoming a master at uncovering value will help you to reduce no decision outcomes. Most complex solution sales organizations report 40-60% no decision outcomes, and one of the most common contributors is a lack of awareness on the buyer’s part about the value the solution can enable. If this topic is not explored in relation to a purchase of your solution and a competing alternative use of funds is better prepared to address the issue, you’ll get left in the dust by an invisible competitor.
Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.