Understand the themes

At the back of my house is an oak woodland, with protected trees. The previous owner of the house applied to the council to cut two of them down. The council refused permission. Ten years later, in the process of purchasing a piece of the wood, I meet with the council treeman to discuss tree felling. He tells me that the wood is not in good health and the trees need thinning. Plus the majority are oak, so the wood really needs somebody to introduce some other species to increase the biodiversity.

Those two words; ‘health’ and ‘biodiversity’ are the themes my predecessor failed to use to his advantage ten years ago. Because he just focused on the trees that were affecting his garden. He didn’t bother to take the time to look at the wood as a whole. So he had no value proposition to offer to the council that would make them say yes.

The higher you go, the more you need to see

As a salesperson, if you are selling into a commoditised market, you possibly don’t need to know too much about your customers’ woods. But if you want to sell larger, more complex solutions you will probably need to have conversations higher up the food chain. The higher you go then the more you need to know about the wood. Because then you can place your solution in the context of how it will support the overall business strategy.

Sounds simple yes? But it’s amazing how many salespeople just don’t get it. Even senior experienced ones. I once heard a sales manager say that he was only interested in talking to customers about the problems that his product could solve. Well yes, that is important. You need to be able to build the importance of those problems in the customers’ mind. But I would argue that this is far more effective if you do it in the context of a bigger picture.

Recently I was observing a sales meeting with an Operations Director, who was new in post. At the start of the conversation he told us his goal was to take the business from a turnover of £30 million to £100 million in five years. What did the salesperson do with that piece of information? Ignored it. That’s what I mean by not taking the time out to consider the wood.

Dig out the emotional benefits

The whole point of understanding the soil type, the aspect, and the local microclimate is that the more you dig, the better you can align the benefits of your solution to an overall key business goal. But that Operations Director also revealed what is personally most important to him. You will take your selling to a whole new level if you can demonstrate ‘emotional benefits’ that resonate on a personal level. These tend to be more powerful than the ‘functional benefits’ that impact on business performance.

The Forum Corporation research found that what C-suite executives want most from salespeople is an understanding of their industry and business. That means salespeople who can see the wood. So they can talk about industry trends, market conditions, the competitive environment and strategy.

Keep your ears open at all times

Getting to see the wood is not always possible once you are in the meeting room. The best place to get an understanding of broader issues is often on the way in from reception. That’s when the customer is going to be more open and probably reveal even subconsciously what is top of brain for them right now. Listen out for those first few words! 

So to sum up what I’m really saying here is that context is important. Understand the bigger picture and you’ll be in a far better place to offer something in that gels with the overall scene. That’s what makes a really compelling value proposition.