One of the toughest parts of the sales cycle is simply getting in the door. It’s often a challenge for salespeople to get a meeting. And once you do have the meeting, how can you use the time you have to connect your solution to your customer’s problem. Fortunately, our CEO Tom Stanfill has a unique perspective on how salespeople can effectively book meetings and close opportunities, by leveraging their position, not their product.
Position > Product
Most salespeople, when strategizing on how to get a meeting or win a deal, focus on their solution. Sellers typically focus on how to communicate all the features and benefits they can offer with their product or service. They lead with their solution – but that is a flawed strategy. We need to position our solution in order to get a meeting or win an opportunity.
When sellers are in sales situations, they often forget that they need to pick a position, take a stand, make a bet. If you try to list every feature and benefit of your solution, your message gets watered down. You need to pick an angle, position your product, and focus on communicating that.
Whose responsibility is it to come up with that position? It’s a collaboration between marketing and sales.
Marketing has to come up with a position, a message, and stick with it. Once you go to market, it’s in writing. You can’t change. You’re committed. But in sales, you develop your position based on what you know about the client. When you’re prospecting, you may have to make an educated guess about what position to take. You can study similar customers and generate a list of problems they are likely facing.
But when you’re working to close an opportunity, you’ve got all the information you need to make your bet and pick your position. Pick your one thing: “I will win if they believe this,” or “If I can prove this, I will win.”
We’ve done this each time we worked on closing a deal with our own clients. It’s a scary thing to do. Because if you make the bet, pick your position, and you’re wrong, you could lose. But Tom believes that if you don’t make the bet, you’ll lose anyway. (Unless you’re the only player in town).
Gaining Confidence in Your Position
How do you gain confidence that you have the right idea? That you’ve positioned your solution correctly? What kind of research should you conduct? Where do you get that information? How can you be confident in it?
Tom has several tips for this:
1 – Clear your cache
Like computers, we take in information constantly – through our interactions with prospects and customers. Sometimes, this causes us to fill in certain “blanks.” We anticipate what the customer is going to say. We think we already know. And this hinders our ability to actively and truly listen.
Therefore, clear your cache before every conversation. This ensures you will actually hear what the customer is saying and be able to use that information to position your solution and solve their problem.
2 – Ask good questions
Tom likes to ask questions that get at the heart of the customer’s goals. And the truth is, both asking and responding are equally important. Ask open-ended and clarifying questions. As you listen to their answers, think about what needs to happen for them to get what they want. What are they missing? Don’t think about winning, think about truth.
In doing so, you’ll get more information to help tailor your position for your customer.
3 – Land on a specific position
Once you have enough information, think through your options for positioning. There are a few options:
Sometimes, it works out nicely where you offer exactly what they’re looking for. This is the frontal approach. When this happens, don’t overcomplicate things.
But sometimes, you need to flank. If what you offer isn’t a perfect match for what their stated needs are, you need to use the flank approach. When what they are asking for won’t help them get to where they want to go, we have to influence them to change their criteria.
This does not mean you are convincing your prospect to buy something that is not a good fit for their needs. Rather, you suspect that their current decision-making criteria will not lead them to the best solution for their actual needs.
As a salesperson, it’s not about convincing them of what you do and how you do it… you are there to help them uncover their unstated needs, needs or goals they may not even perceive.
At this point, you’re not selling your product or service, you’re influencing their decision criteria.
Other times, you’ll need to fragment. When there is a big opportunity, but you can’t solve every one of your customer’s needs, you should use the fragment approach.
This is where you get them to purchase your solution for the part of their project/ needs. Sometimes, this means you’re actually recommending a competitor to solve the pieces that you can’t. While this seems strange, it’s actually very OtherCentered®. It would be self-centered to convince your customer to buy something (from you) that won’t serve them well. Helping them navigate finding a total solution, even if it doesn’t only involve you, will also increase the level of trust your customer has in you, as a provider of products/ services, but also as a partner in their decision making process.
If you don’t have the capability to solve a need that is on their decision-making criteria list, you’ll want to fragment: get them to purchase your offering for the part that you can solve. Take the part of the deal that you can win.
Winning part of the deal is better than losing all of it.
Delivering Your Position
Once you pick and develop your position/ make your bet, it’s time to think about how you are going to demonstrate that. How are you going to prove that you can do that? How are you going to package and deliver your position?
When Tom makes presentations, he starts there. “This is what you want, and for you to get there, this needs to happen.” He delivers his position at the very beginning. He calls it the “bridge” slide – the bridge from the customer’s current state to their desired state. What things need to happen for the customer to reach their destination? This is the set up for the presentation, and your position is embedded within that.
Your position drives the rest of the presentation – and the presentation is about proving that position.
As Tom unpacks his position, the first thing he does is to articulate the customer’s point of view. Lead with “Because you…” and reiterate something they’ve told you related to their problem. Then, communicate a disruptive truth (some unknown and interesting insight), followed by a proprietary benefit (something unique that only you can offer to solve their problem). The disruptive truth could be something they think is true that is not. What is a better way to solve their problem?
No matter what point you’re making, communicate their world first. Start with them and their point of view. Don’t lead with your agenda.
Many times, when sellers lead with their position, they win right there at the beginning.
Why Is Your Position So Important?
Tom says, “It’s not, if you have enough time.” If you have hours and hours to spend with your customer going through your offerings and your solution, you may not need to take a strong position.
But that usually is not the case. There is so much noise in the market. It’s hard to get people’s attention and then keep it. There’s not enough time in anyone’s day. Most sellers only get 45 to an hour to cover a solution that may in actuality take 4 – 5 hours to unpack. You have to distinguish yourself from your competition, in that short amount of time, by taking a position.
This may be one of the hardest things to do as a sales rep. It’s universally known that sales reps have a tendency to “show up and throw up,” just throwing features and benefits at a prospect and hoping something sticks.
But what we’re talking about here is a far more effective, Other-Centered approach. You have to be strategic with the time you have. It emanates from learning about your customer. Most sellers spend hours and hours studying their products and solutions – which we should do. But spend an equal amount of time learning about the customer’s world, their whiteboard, and what they care about. Step back and take on the role of consultant, listen to what they tell you. In doing so, you will be better able to position your solution and actually serve your customers well. It’s hard to do but it will pay off.
Your position, not your product, is what will get you in the door and help you close more sales opportunities.