The New Action Selling: Act 4: Agree On Need
Act 4 Agree On Need
Don’t just be a solution. Be the best solution.
Boarding for Flight 453 to Denver was already underway when Matt and Joe reached the departure gate. They found their adjoining seats in the first-class cabin and settled in, accepting bottled water from the flight attendant.
“Are we ready for Action Selling, Act 4?” Matt asked, as other passengers continued to shuffle past them down the aisle. “If I’m following correctly, agreeing on the client’s need is the climax of everything that’s happened in the drama so far. It’s what Acts 2 and 3 were building up to. And if I performed well in those earlier acts, then Act 4 should be short and sweet.”
“That’s pretty much true,” Joe said. “To ‘Agree on Need,’ you’re going to say, ‘As I understand it, you’re looking for…’ and then repeat back the most important things you’ve learned about the prospect’s situation—the high-yield needs you uncovered through questioning. Then you say, ‘Is that correct?’ If the prospect says yes, you’ve agreed on needs, and Act 4 is over. Of course…” Joe paused.
Agree on Need: ‘As I understand it, you are looking for…(insert needs). Is that correct?’
“Of course, life isn’t quite that simple?” Matt finished for him.
“Everything depends on whether you asked the best questions beforehand,” Joe said. “There’s a little more to it than we’ve talked about so far.”
“I figured as much,” Matt said. “But that’s fine, because I’d like to work through the process with you in the context of an actual sales call. Can we do some game planning for how I’ll use Action Selling when I call on my prospect tomorrow morning?” Because I sure need some help, he thought.
“Good idea,” Joe said. “Tell me about the prospect.”
Gary Iverson, Matt explained, is vice president of sales and marketing for Advanced Packaging Solutions Inc. APS, based in Denver, sells systems and materials used to package products for shipping. APS covers the western United States with a direct sales force of 60 people. Iverson is the ultimate decision-maker for purchases involving the sales and marketing functions.
Tomorrow’s meeting would be Matt’s second call on Iverson. Thanks in part to some research he did before his initial call (Hear that, Joe? I actually do research my clients!), Matt said he had learned quite a bit about the company.
“Basically, APS sells a packaging system to its corporate customers, then makes its real money selling the consumables the system uses,” Matt said.
“What kind of consumables?” Joe asked.
“Things like tape, staples, adhesive, shrink wrap, strapping material—the packaging systems eat up that stuff.”
“So they operate on the razor-blade theory,” Joe said. “Sell the razor cheap, and make money selling the blades?”
Exactly, Matt agreed. And that strategy worked well for APS until a competitor began attacking its installed customer base with email offers for the consumables that APS’ systems use. The competitor has a convenient Web-based ordering system that allows customers to buy online. APS’ customers are finding that the competitor’s consumables work just as well and cost 20 to 30 percent less.
“Iverson told me that he has to compete with these ‘cutthroats,’ but he doesn’t want to undermine his direct sales force,” Matt said. “Trouble is, he can’t afford to pay his salespeople and meet the competition’s price point. What he’d like to do is to counterattack the competitor’s client base with a Web-based sales and marketing system that gets APS into the Internet business and leverages the use of his direct sales force at the same time.”
Joe was impressed. You’ve found the decision maker and you’re near the heart of the problem, he thought. You must have done some pretty good Act 2 and Act 3 work in your first meeting to get this far. You have a lot of the skills, Matt. You just lack the strategy and the framework to capitalize on them. We’ll make a professional salesperson out of you yet.
The plane began to back away from the gate. Aloud, Joe said, “So, what’s your Commitment Objective for tomorrow’s meeting with Gary Iverson?”
Matt was ready for that one. “He’s the sole decision-maker, so there’s no point in trying to schedule a separate proposal meeting with some committee. I want to go all the way. My Commitment Objective is to close the sale. I want him to commit to buy.”
“Well, it certainly sounds as if Iverson has some needs we could address,” Joe said. “That is what you’ll be looking for during tomorrow’s appointment, right?”
“You mean, do I realize now that I have more Act 2 and Act 3 work to do before I ask him to buy?” Matt said sheepishly. “Yes, I do. I have to identify his high-yield needs—needs that let me differentiate my products and services from the competition so I can position them as solutions, not as commodities.”
“And that presupposes, doesn’t it, that of all the thousands of needs Iverson might have in his business, the particular needs you’re looking for are the ones that our products can best address?” Joe asked.
“Well…sure, obviously,” Matt said.
“No, not obviously,” Joe said, “because those kinds of needs won’t just pop out of the conversation. If they did, you’d be making more money already.”
Ouch, Matt thought. He had time to stew about the comment as the plane began its takeoff run and roared into the sky.
When the engine noise returned to a tolerable level, Joe resumed the conversation. “In fact,” he said, “the ideal high-yield needs for you to discover wouldn’t just be those that allow you to present our product as a solution. They would be a combination of needs that cause the customer to perceive us as offering the best solution—maybe even the only solution. Doesn’t that make sense?”
Whoever does the best job of uncovering needs for the strengths of their solution will WIN!
“Yes,” Matt agreed, afraid to add, “of course.”
“You’re always selling against your competitors,” Joe said, “and in my experience, the salesperson who wins is the one who does the best job of uncovering needs that match the particular strengths of his product features, allowing him to present his products as a solution. Action Selling says that’s how you persuade the customer that you offer the best solution.
“If you’re going to uncover needs like that by questioning Iverson, you’ll require a strategy, won’t you,” Joe continued. “A strategy that works better than whatever you’re doing now.”
Okay, I get the point, Matt thought. “I’ll bet Action Selling has a strategy for me.”
“Action Selling has a great strategy for you. It’s called Back- Tracking Benefits.”
When a salesperson is trying to identify a client’s high-yield needs, Joe explained, the quantity of needs, as well as their quality, is important. Research shows that sales calls are significantly more successful when at least three high-yield needs are uncovered.
Back-Tracking Benefits: Uncover a minimum of three high-yield needs for your product.
The process that Action Selling calls Back-Tracking Benefits allows the salesperson to identify as many needs as possible . Even more importantly, it focuses the conversation on needs that relate directly to the features and benefits of the salesperson’s products and services.
Joe opened his notebook on the seat’s tray table and drew another diagram:
“You ‘re familiar with the distinction between features and benefits?” Joe asked.
“Sure,” Matt said, eager to make up lost ground. “Features are the attractive characteristics of your product or service: Your widgets are more durable than the competition’s or you can deliver them faster—whatever. Benefits are the advantages that customers gain from those features: Because your products are durable, they don’t have to be replaced as often, so customers save money and inconvenience. Because you can deliver them fast, they arrive exactly when customers need them, eliminating downtime.”
“Good,” Joe said, and pointed to his diagram. “To prepare for a sales call using Back-Tracking Benefits, start with your knowledge of your product’s features and their likely benefits to the prospect. Determine what needs the customer might have for those features and benefits. Then prepare questions that let you drill down to uncover high-yield needs that could be served by those features and benefits.”
Joe pointed to the dotted arrows on his diagram. “Your first question draws out a need for a feature of our product. The Leverage Question draws out a need for the benefit.”
“Okay,” Matt said. “So how do I Back-Track Benefits with Gary Iverson tomorrow?”
“Start with your product features,” Joe said, tapping his pen at the top of the diagram. “You’ll look at your strengths and go through the Back-Tracking Benefits process for each one. Let’s do an example. What would you say is our product’s best feature, and what benefit is likely to have the most appeal to a customer like Iverson?”
“Our strongest feature and benefit?” Matt said, glad to be back on familiar turf. He described it like this:
Feature: Our software, the All-In-One system, is an integrated solution that manages a company’s entire sales and marketing process. It tracks and manages both Internet marketing and the activity of the direct sales force, turning them into a coordinated, seamless whole.
Benefit: Internet marketing efforts support the direct sales force instead of undermining it. And because our product does it all, the customer avoids the problems associated with combining several unrelated systems and dealing with multiple software suppliers.
“Very good,” Joe said when Matt finished.
It ought to be, Matt thought. I’ve been selling our software— or trying to— for six years. You’d expect me to know our features and benefits.
“Now,” Joe said, “if that is your most powerful feature, and your goal in Act 4 is to get Gary Iverson to agree on needs, what would be the ideal need to include in Act 4? What need could he agree on at this point that would allow you later on not only to present a solution, but to present us as the best solution?”
After a bit of back-and-forth with Joe, Matt concluded that the ideal need for his first feature would be this:
Need: Iverson wants a quick and painless way to solve his problem with the “cutthroat” competitor that is using the Internet to undercut APS’ prices.
“All right,” Joe said, “you have identified one of the needs you’d most like Iverson to agree on. Action Selling’s Back- Tracking Benefits process is the strategy you’re going to use to bring that need to the surface-along with at least two more-so that you and he can agree on them.”
“In other words,” Matt said, “if I ask the right questions to draw out the needs that are met by our strengths, and he agrees that, yes, those are his most important needs, then all I have to do is prove that our solution is the answer. And the deal will be mine.”
“That’s it,” Joe said. “Now , let’s work through this example. I’ll take notes. The feature is…”
Matt explained the feature. “We have a single, integrated solution that manages a company’s whole sales and marketing process—Internet and direct sales both.”
“And the likely benefit of that?”
“Because it’s one system, installation is incredibly fast and easy. It’s painless.”
“And the real need that this feature and benefit will satisfy for the customer?” Joe asked, pointing to the third line of the Back- Tracking Benefits diagram. “The burning reason why Iverson and APS would want a fast and painless solution?”
Matt thought for a moment. “Probably because Iverson is under the gun to hit his annual sales targets, just like the rest of us. And he needs something to help him do that right away.” (Like me, at the moment.)
Joe smiled, reading Matt’s thought. (You’ve got that right.) He pointed to the next step shown on the diagram. “Okay, so if you’re Back-Tracking Benefits with Iverson, what open-ended question would you ask to draw out that need?”
“Well, I’d ask him how this competitive situation he’s dealing with is affecting his sales,” Matt said. “Then I’d ask how soon he would like to see a solution in place.”
“Suppose you hear that APS is, in fact, struggling to hit its sales goals and that Iverson wants a solution by yesterday,” Joe said. “What question would you ask to leverage that need?”
Matt took only a few seconds. “I’ve got a couple of beauties: ‘Who is ultimately responsible for solving this problem?’ And when he tells me it’s him, I’ll ask, ‘What are the consequences if you don’t solve it quickly?’”
“That should get Gary Iverson emotionally involved in finding a solution, all right,” Joe agreed.
Matt began making notes on his legal pad. “I get it,” he said. “By analyzing our features and benefits, I’ll determine the ideal outcome for Act 4 before I make the call. Then I aim my questions at that goal. I’ve got some homework to do tonight for tomorrow’s meeting with Iverson.”
“What’s on your homework list so far?”
“Figure out some good Act 2 questions,” Matt said, scribbling notes. “Plan how I’m going to Back-Track Benefits to surface at least two more high-yield needs I want Iverson to agree on… Contingency plan for where to take the questioning in case I’m wrong about where his high-yield needs will be… Some ‘How-to- Sell’ questions for Act 3 about the competition I’m facing, his time frame, and whether I’m right that there are no other significant buying influences… What to do if I have to change my Commitment Objective…”
Absorbed in his list, Matt forgot about trying to impress his new boss. He was just thinking out loud.
Joe was so pleased that he almost stopped listening. Matt is beginning to see the light, he thought, and the light is coming from his wallet. He has figured out that this isn’t just some new system he needs to learn in order to please me. I think he just realized that Action Selling is going to make him a lot of money.