Telling Isn’t Selling
Knowing your product catalogue verbatim is not enough to make you a top producer. Knowing the buyer pains your products resolve and the gains they facilitate will get you there. This is needs-based selling.
Espousing your products’ features and benefits is educational and sounds impressive, but it is not selling. This approach is severely limited in its ability to get a yes. Brochures, web sites, and catalogues can do the education. The seller’s role is that of Helper.
Buyers need help in two specific areas. First is working through the logical exercise of “shopping” — that is, narrowing down the list of options to the best two or three.
Second, and most importantly, they need assistance navigating the actual purchase. The moment of saying yes to one provider over the others can be a turbulent time. The best sellers hop in the navigator’s seat and help the buyer find their way.
Fear of making a mistake (“Is this the best option?”), loss (“Am I overpaying?”), and impacts (“Will others in the organization like my choice?”) all weigh on your buyer’s mind. A poor decision can cost a small business thousands, a corporate buyer her job.
Needs-based selling is an effective way to help your buyer work through their purchase decision. When it’s done well, the buyer gets what they want — the best purchase decision for them. And, you also get what you want — a long-term relationship with a buyer who most often chooses you.
Needs-based selling differs from traditional sales approaches in several ways.
Let’s use the example of two Chartered Accountants working to make partner. Successful client acquisition shows their worth. Bill is more traditional when it comes to his selling. Anne takes a needs-based approach.
When asked by a prospective client, “Why should we select your firm?”, Bill responds with a deep dive on the 40 years the firm has been in business, its A list of clients, and its track record of great work. He is clearly passionate about the firm.
Anne is passionate, too, but takes a different path. She says, “I’m not sure why you would choose us. Let’s talk about what your needs are around accounting services. What pains are you facing with your current provider? What gains are you looking to realize by switching to a new firm? Once we know that, we can see if we are the best choice for you.”
Anne is inviting a dialogue, the focus of which is the client and their needs. What is causing them pain? What gains are they after? Anne knows that if she can’t relieve their pains and deliver the desired gains, the firm’s number of years in business and A list of clients are meaningless factoids.
When asked about the firm’s client management, Bill gets excited. He has many examples of above-and-beyond service that show how the firm shines.
Anne gets excited, too, but she doesn’t want to risk sidetracking the needs conversation with a solution conversation. It’s too early for that.
Again, she defaults to a question. “We have an excellent approach to client management which I would happy to tell you all about. First, though, tell me what you are looking for. What client management approach would meet your needs?”
And so it goes. Bill cares deeply about his clients and sincerely wants to help. Ironically, because he is spending so much time talking about the firm he is not being as helpful as he could.
Anne’s approach is helpful because she focuses first on diagnosing her buyer’s needs. Then and only then does she present her prescription (the firm and all it has to offer). She clearly connects each buyer need to the firm’s capability to meet it. This clarity helps her buyers make the best decision for them.
Needs-based selling says “diagnose needs first, prescribe solutions second.” Traditional selling reverses this. Why is needs-based selling superior? Because prescription before diagnosis is malpractice.
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