Simple….. Not!

In which we're encouraged to ask enough questions to understand whether our prescribed solution to a client's problem will really work in the client's environment. Watching classroom sales training role-plays is a little like watching football teams practice without pads... Low intensity. Move through the motions. Nobody trying too hard to take anyone else out. Still, an observer can get a general sense of the team. Essential tendencies shine through. So, as I was watching and coaching this particular set of "pad-free practice role-plays," I saw an essential tendency. As the "sellers" in the role plays heard a bit of information that suggested a potential need for a product, they would say, almost reflexively, "if I could show you a way to..." (I gag every time I hear that) or "we have a product that would help you...."

Which brought to mind one of my favorite H. L. Mencken admonitions, “For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” To which I’ll add, “Simple, neat, and incomplete.”

Why? Because clients’ operations challenges and product cues don’t exist in little independent vacuums. They’re parts of systems. Our clients’ methods for computing, or managing cash flow, or providing accounting services are as they are for a variety of reasons – accidental, political, historical, and economic. It’s possible that they might improve their operations with one or two of our products without changing any other elements of their systems…. but not likely.

So, sellers who jump swiftly for the “if I could show you…” question or for product at the first hint of “need” risk prescribing neat, simple solutions for problem X that are wrong, or that don’t address related problems Y and Z, or that miss the internal upheaval created when buyers implement product X – changes in procedures, retraining time, mistakes. This is really the guts of making a “solutions” sale – integrating all essential elements together so that a client gets the desired end result, taking all factors into consideration, even if you’re selling only one element of the solution.

Questions like, “How does X fit into the larger picture of your operations?” or “When X changes, what else will you need to change in your operations to accommodate X?” can help sort out these issues.

Example: Your significant other comes home from work and begins to share a problem that came up during the day. In an effort to be helpful, you immediately begin generating ideas to fix the problem you heard… earning a sharp scowl for your efforts because you don’t REALLY understand all of the social, political, and other factors that are involved in the problem…. Thus your proposed fixes – simple and neat – are wrong.

Example: George needs a new computer with more memory. The salesperson helps him find an appropriate machine. George buys the computer, the warranty package, and the software. He brings it home and, almost immediately, feels ripping upset because he can’t configure the software to work with the printer on his in-home wireless network. He thought it would work “automatically.” The salesperson solved the obvious issue – computer memory and other features. He never asked about other elements that George would need to change. So, George doesn’t have a solution. He has a product and a headache. Simple, neat, and incomplete.

So, when you feel the urge to fix, a few more probes will do the trick.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.