By Dave Light
A similar phrase, “the market hates uncertainty” is often heard concerning financial markets these days. Whether the issue is sovereign debt crisis, energy volatility or legislative zaniness over a financial regulations bill in congress the security markets perceive business uncertainties as an increased monetary risk, leading to commercial disruption and a general reduction in the orderly flow of capital. When investors lack an idea about what’s going to happen next politically, economically etc., investment slows or stops altogether. And, as insurance companies have taught us all, risk and uncertainty have a cost.
The “risk cost” in sales is “No deal!” because the prospect’s buying process also loathes uncertainty. Customers may want to buy, but if they can’t see a clear path to a decision – either to a yes or a no – they stop their buying process until they can find a salesperson that has a process for guiding them with certainty to their outcome. For a sales organization to be truly great, regardless of the economic environment, it needs a strong culture of following a process that is precise and decisive. In challenging times this discipline is the best measure of “sales evolution” (pun intended). The most highly evolved sales force develops sales courage to have “reality testing conversations” while diligently guiding the prospect ever forward to the best decision for their desired outcome, not the salesperson’s outcome.
This is the new sales paradigm in today’s world of the savvy, online buyer. The buyer is likely to be more knowledgeable about the practical elements (what matters to him) of the product or service you are selling than you are. They’ve come to the point of talking to you to learn just one thing: are you the best person with the best organization to enable them to get it done? They don’t need product information or the company history – because they already have it via the internet plus other available competitive options. They want you to explain what “blanks to fill in and what buttons to press” so that when they invest in your business solution the outcome they’ve been dreaming of will pop out the other end. From your first point of contact what the prospect needs is to fill in the uncertainties of getting there; but not yours – theirs. So stop selling and start talking about what they perceive as standing in the way.
When all you talk about how big, problem-free, efficient, well-financed…etc., your product/company is, it’s actually sign that you are not confident (certain) about your company or yourself. Instead when you begin by focusing on questions that reveal how big, problematic, inefficient and costly (especially costly) their problem is; when you ask about the nitty-gritty details that stand in the way of getting it fixed – you’ve framed your sales process with a frankness and openness that eliminates uncertainty. This is key to changing the game from “buyers school” to “sellers school” – and customers will love you for it. Get to the truth, get the uncertainties out on the table and challenge them so that they are resolved one way or another in a timely fashion. “If not now, when?” “What should I do if I don’t hear from you then?” In every instance you are always eliminating the uncertainty. Interestingly, a nice side benefit is that the client will always pay a premium for certainty, (within a range) – but more on that in a future MMD.