The Best Sellers Are Curious: Part Two

Last week, I wrote a post about the advantage of uncovering the prospect’s value proposition instead of pushing the value proposition of others onto the prospect. As a result, I received an outpouring of personal notes from my readers asking for more on the topic of sales curiosity.

For this post, I’ll explore how curiosity can project your solution as more strategic to your prospects.

Years ago, I was selling an engineering automation solution. I had been in contact with a company called Sundstrand that makes flight data recorders. You know, the indestructible black box that tells the story of any commercial airplane accident. (If you’re like me, you may have even wondered at least once; why don’t they make the rest of the plane out of the same stuff?)

After months of fending off my diligent follow up, my lead contact suddenly became very interested in my solution, and wanted to borrow our software to evaluate the capabilities. My curiosity kicked in, so I inquired about the sudden change in interest level. My contact side-stepped the question and focused the dialog on how fast we could get the software installed on his computer. I could have chosen to go with the flow, but sensing his level of urgency, I leveraged the moment.

“Because we have a finite amount of technical support”, I explained, “my management will only allow so many evaluations at any one time”. This would put him on a waiting list that might be three or four weeks out. However, I shared with him, I had successfully reshuffled the list to get evaluations started right away when I was able to explain to my boss how it might help the customer’s business.

My contact took a deep breath through his nose, exhaled, and proceeded to share the background. They were late on a project for Boeing, as a result they were already being docked $1M in contract penalties. His boss had been fired over the flap, and he wanted to show his new boss that he was on top of the problem. He was certain our software could help him chase down the problem, avoid the next late penalty and ultimately keep his job.

I nodded my head in acknowledgement, and said I think I could get his evaluation re-prioritized, but added that it would help if his manager would reiterate the situation to my manager. We prepped our respective chain of command, coordinated the phone call for the next day, and I upped the ante.

During the call with his manager, I suggested we send our best engineer along with the software to help chase down the design problem they were experiencing, eliminating a potential learning curve delay. In return, if we successfully identified the problem, we asked them to commit to buy the software and pay for our engineer’s time as a service fee. Although my contact was obviously annoyed he wouldn’t be the sole hero, his manager thought it was a prudent suggestion and agreed.

I had a purchase order in my hand on day seven after the initial conversation. In retrospect, I realized that had I simply loaned him the software for evaluation, he would have found the solution to his problem, relieving his motivation, and then sat on the purchase decision until the end of the quarter when he could pressure me for a discount.

Here’s what I learned: There are three questions to leverage curiosity and uncover the strategic issue. They are “why?”, “why?”, and “why?”. For instance: “Why are you interested in our solution?” “Why is that problem important to your senior management?” And, “Why is that issue more important than other issues on their plate?”

The first why will usually uncover the problem. The second why will uncover how the problem has created a business issue, which is what management is focused on. And the third why will usually get the value of solving the business issue surfaced to help justify and prioritize the purchase.

With these answers, you should have a very powerful value proposition that shines a light on your strategic contribution, not just your differentiated capabilities.

Lastly, should you find yourself talking to a prospect that didn’t come to you, start by explaining the most common problems your solution helps to address. (Not your capabilities!) If the prospect resonates with any of the problem definitions, follow your curiosity with at least two more “why” questions to uncover the connection to a current business issue and the strategic value of your solution to this particular prospect.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at 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.

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