These are tough times, and there are likely plenty of people competing for what can be a finite amount of business. According to Clayton Christensen, a management consultant for McDonald’s, companies that lead with curiosity and empathy, and set aside biases and assumptions, will find greater success in sales in their interactions with prospects. Here are four things you can do to up your game:
- Exercise “the five whys” to get to the real motivation. The five whys is an iterative interrogative technique first developed by the quality geniuses at Toyota Motor Corp. as a way to understand cause and effect. By stacking a series of “why” questions, the technique draws you beyond the superficial answers that may mask the true challenge.
Toyota applied this practice to a hypothetical manufacturing example:
Why did the robot stop?
Because the circuit had overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.
Why is the circuit overloaded?
There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.
Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?
The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.
Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?
The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.
Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?
Because there is no filter on the pump.
Of course, there’s an art to asking a series of why questions without really annoying your prospect. But as you learn to unpack the layers, you’ll better understand the real problem.
- Craft outcomes that illustrate a better future. Prospects only care about one thing: positive outcomes for their business (and for themselves, of course). A famous Harvard Business School professor, Theodore Levitt, said “people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want to buy a quarter-inch hole.” The quarter-inch hole is the outcome. So why sell the drill?
By asking smart questions, you’ll arrive at the insights necessary to craft compelling outcomes that show your prospect a better future.
Also: Avoid vague benefits, flowery prose, and outcomes that lack metrics and timeframes. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and without a specific end date, it’s impossible to know whether the outcome has been achieved.
- Build a mutual success plan. The “mutual success” plan is an informal contract between you and your prospect that creates alignment around these promised outcomes and the path to formalizing a commercial relationship. By documenting these outcomes, they become more real in the mind of your prospects, and it demonstrates a level of rigor and preparation that’s simply just a good look.
The mutual success plan both creates confidence with your prospect and the structure necessary to advance the steps to close the deal and achieve these promised outcomes.
- Nail the handoff. Crucially, this mutual success plan should address in some detail what happens after the deal is closed. Too often, this post-sale handoff to the implementation and success teams is fumbled, creating a significant dip in customer confidence from the start and beginning a new relationship in arrears. Your prospect has undoubtedly experienced this firsthand and, frankly, it’s this knowledge that causes them to doubt your promises.
By incorporating the handoff into the mutual success plan and executing it with precision, you set up a healthier customer relationship, and you build confidence in the sales cycle itself.