Your investors set a meeting up between your company and a huge target customer because they know a senior director. You are super excited because this is a dream client and you can not believe that they are one of the first companies you have an opportunity to sell to. You prepare the best deck, bring your whole team together and when you begin the meeting, they interrupt you and say, ‘I’m just doing a favour for Mr Investor but we are doing fine right now. I hear you do have some cool technology though.’ This happens a lot. You are in a position where you are entering into a conversation with a company that has not declared explicit problems but they have an open ear. Let’s dig into this further.
When we think about selling we can split our prospective customers into two categories.
- Companies that have known problems
- Companies that have unknown problems
The first category have already assembled a team, project owners, indicative budgets and some loose timescales for getting something implemented to solve these known problems. The problem they have to overcome is tied to the overall company objectives and has executive sponsorship. Even if the company is stand-offish, you can approach them by making sensible assumptions based on your knowledge of the market, industry and their specific business. By relaying common problems you can build rapport and credibility very quickly in the early stages of a discussion. You will most likely see nod’s, half smiles, eye rolling and signs of agreement in an initial meeting because they are comfortable that you have explored these areas before.
The second category is a little trickier because you have to balance the excitement of speaking with a company that fits an ideal customer profile with the fact that they are pretty at ease with the status quo. No matter how lovely you are, your customers will only buy something if they acknowledge that they actually have a problem to solve. Even social proof will struggle to create waves within this company. You walk a fine line between helping to inform and educate a customer on what the opportunities are if they make a change, and alienating them by highlighting that they are living in the dark ages.
So what ways can you tackle the second category? …
You can typically approach this category by keeping a pulse on what is happening in and around the market. You can look at prospective customers’ competitors and see where they are excelling and see how you can help them to get to the same place. By getting an understanding of the macro landscape, you can then move to addressing the elephant in the room – the problem that they do not know that they have or could have in the near future.
Please note, not all problems are equally weighted across companies in the same vertical. There are so many variables to consider. Ideally, you want to spend time investigating how big this problem might be and if – once acknowledged – it can be pushed up the agenda of priorities.
The worst thing you can do is go in with bells and whistles when the customer is not yet on the same page as you with regards to the problem at hand. Think about the last time you had a conversation with one of your friends and they didn’t really hear the beginning of what you were saying and then halfway through the sentence they say, ‘stop stop stop I’m not following you,’ that’s exactly how it comes across to a potential buyer if you lose them halfway along the journey.
If you are reading this blog post, you are most likely a business owner, a co-founder yourself or a salesperson, so you have a very deep understanding of how businesses work, the different models that exist and how a company typically operates. Use your own understanding of your business to really think about the questions that need to be asked to your prospective customers so you can put your business in a position to ask the right questions and start to uncover potential problems that your customers may have.
How about taking your prospective customer on a journey? A journey from where they are right now, all of the hurdles that are in the way currently and how they can get to that final place of utopia. That place where everything is great and frustrations are low. Remember you are fighting against the status quo – the, ‘this is just a cost of doing business.’ You need to get in a position to make your proposition compelling.
On a final note, it’s important not to approach things with a one size fits all mentality. You are not selling paracetamol for an ordinary headache. Your prospect will not just buy your products because there is some kind of pain. You have to recognise how that particular pain affects the bigger picture within that particular business and then look at where your solutions could potentially fit in.