Something for the pain?

Are you a box-shifter or do you find out your customers’ needs and desires and sell them something that satisfies them? asks T21 MD Paul Laville

I’m probably breaking some quasi-Hippocratic oath by saying this. But as I’m the kind of guy who likes to tweak the nose of danger, I’ll say it anyway: there is no great mystery to ‘solution selling’.

A thousand expensive consultants will be hiding their eyes and shaking their heads sadly but, as I’ve said before, sales is sales is sales – no matter how you dress it up.

Indeed, the ‘solution sell’ is probably the most transparent example of the unadulterated sales process you can find.

Put simply, it works like this: customer has a problem, you find out what it is, then you solve it. Simple!

Solution selling is often likened to being a bit like a GP. Not so much the years spent at university studying complex textbooks for a career affecting many peoples’ lives, but on a more basic level, where you determine the root cause of your customer’s ‘pain points’ and then prescribe a solution that gets rid of them.

For example, if your customer is looking at piles of old laundry festering away in a corner of the kitchen, you sell them a washing machine – or an incinerator – with a feature set that solves their most pressing laundry-related problems.

So product knowledge is critical: however, it’s not everything.

If your customer doesn’t have the cash to pay for one right now, then this itself is a pain point, so that too needs relieving. Temptation might be to sell them a cheaper product, but if doing so doesn’t ease their original pain, then that’s not a solution sell, that’s just box-shifting.

So maybe finance or rental is part of the solution? Delivery and installation, too? Absolutely, unless they want to do all that themselves. What about an after-sales service or care plan, or an extended warranty? Selling a solution involves more than selling a single product. The aim is to minimise your customers’ pain not just for the short term, but for the long haul, too. Get it right and you’ll not only increase your transactional value and profits, you’ll stand a good chance of gaining your customers’ long-term loyalty.

But, I hear you say, they only came in for a washing machine. Fine. Let your competitor sell the solution instead. You won’t see that customer again.

This ability to always think beyond the product alone, even beyond the price ticket, is one of the critical skills that differentiate solution-based sales experts from box-shifters competing on low margins.

Backtracking slightly, I mentioned that you need to know exactly what your customers’ pain points or problems are, if you want to excel at solution selling. This goes way deeper than listening out for ‘I need a washing machine’ and pointing them towards a bunch of appliances. Fully understanding your customers’ pain means fully understanding your customers and their motivations to buy. It means understanding what the pressures are in their lifestyles and where certain products would relieve that stress. It means understanding exactly what customers need, even if they don’t know themselves.

I hear a lot of salespeople say: “Customers walk in and they have no idea what they need.” Of course, they don’t. How many times do you walk into a GP’s consulting room knowing exactly what’s causing your earache and what brand of leeches you need to stick to the sides of your face to cure it?

I also hear customers asking salespeople tons of questions: “So what does that do?” “What happens if I connect this?” “What’s the difference between this thing and that thing and will it do bagels?” To which the customer, once the plucky salesperson has expunged their entire product knowledge, will then say: “Thank you. I’ll have a think about it. You’ve been most helpful.”

The point I’m getting at is this. If you want to be a master at selling high-end solutions, services and all the wonderful things that both make a profit and gain customer loyalty, then you need to be extremely good at asking all the questions. For one thing, this gives you control of the conversation, rather than your customer. For another, if you don’t, you’ll never get under your customers’ skin. You’ll never be able to diagnose the cause of their pain, and as for prescribing the right solution…

Well there’s a world of difference between offering them a sticking plaster and a lifetime membership to a VIP suite at the best health spa in the land.