While we won’t go into my views on the election here, I will say that all marketers and solution sellers can learn one “yuge” lesson from Donald Trump: understanding your audience and talking to them in their terms will take you a long, long way.
I’ve always said that solution selling entails getting the customer to conclude three things:
- They understand my problem.
- They can solve my problem.
- I want to work with them.
I put this in reverse form (i.e., calling the company “they”) as a reminder that these are not assertions — they are conclusions. These are three conclusions that we want the customer to draw. Asserting them is probably one of the worst ways to get customers to conclude them. So how might we get a customer to conclude these things?
They Understand My Problem
How might we lead someone to conclude that your organization understands their problem?
- Hire people who have had the customer’s job and walked in their footsteps.
- Speak to the customer in their own language about the problem.
- Active listen to the customer, playing back what they are telling you about the problem.
- Complete their sentences, saying “and I bet you saw this problem next.”
The ultimate goal is to get the customer to think “Holy Cow, these people might understand my problem even better than I do.”
They Can Solve My Problem
They are several ways to get someone to conclude you can solve their problem
- Talking about similar reference customers — where similar is defined in the mind of the buyer — whose problems you have solved.
- Bringing in staff who have worked on solving those very problems. Telling Pearson, “oh, when we were over at McGraw-Hill we worked on the XYZ system.”
- Filling in requirements documents but beware that these are often, dare I say “rigged,” by the vendors who got in first as they attempt to set their differentiators on the agenda.
- Performing a prototype or proof of concept (POC) that shows how key requirements are met using your solution.
I Want To Work With Them
How do you get someone to conclude you they want to work with you?
- Execute the basics: show up on time, be prepared, do your homework, communicate status. (I’m stunned how many people screw up these things and still expect to win.)
- Be reliable. Say what you’ll do and do what you say. Customers want to know they can count on you. Don’t surprise them.
- Be personal, build relationships, get to know people, and make them understand you want their business and care about their success.
Back To Trump
Now I have always believed that the first of these tests was the most important: getting someone to believe you understand their problem. But Trump has taken my belief in this to a whole new level.
By driving hard on two fronts:
- A huge dose of “I understand your problem” — with his speeches aimed at a segment of the public who feels unacknowledged and misunderstood, he energizes crowds largely by simply active listening their problems back to them.
- With a small dose of “I want to work with him” — the whole political outsider, straight-talking guy image.
He has been able to “get the order” from a large number of Americans without providing much detail at all about the second — and one would think rationally very important — point: the “I can solve your problems” point. Put differently, I’d say he put nearly 100% of his eggs in the “I understand your problem” basket and virtually none in the “I can solve it” basket (i.e., a huge amount of what and a stunning lack of how when it comes to policy).
This is all more proof that by simply demonstrating that you understand the customer’s problem and by being someone the customer wants to work with, that you can get the order without actually convincing them that you can solve the problem.
In most corporate sales cycles people incorrectly assume all the importance is on the second point — can they solve the problem? In reality, salespeople and marketers should put emphasis on all three points and on leading the customer to conclude, in this order, that:
- They understand my problem
- I want to work with them
- They can solve my problem
[Reposted and slightly revised post election.]