This is a how-to chapter. It’s about using the Solution Selling 9 Block Vision Processing Model. We’re going to take a prospect from an admitted pain to a vision of a solution. At the conclusion of this hypothetical conversation, the salesperson and the prospect will have a shared buying vision.
The conversation you are about to read is entirely fictional. But it demonstrates the process for diagnosing the reasons for the prospect’s problems, exploring their impact throughout the organization, and visualizing the capabilities ultimately leading to a customer buying vision.
Your buyer is not going to follow your every lead through this approach and model. Buyers frequently go in some other direction that suits their interest at the moment. The guideline is to follow your buyer, stay in alignment, but at the appropriate time, if the buyer has taken you offtrack from executing the steps of the model, skillfully bring him or her back to the last place you were at in the 9 Boxes and continue your conversation.
The following script is an example of a conversation between our salesperson, Bill Hart, and the buyer, Steve Jones, the VP Sales for Titan Games, Inc.
Bill has just shared a Reference Story with Steve about another VP Sales who missed a sales goal and how Bill’s company had been able to help. Bill ended the story with “Enough about that situation. Tell me about your situation and in particular about any challenges that you may be faced with.”
The conversation proceeds with the prospect admitting that the firm’s top-priority pain is “missing new account revenue targets.” Bill then asks a few “sizing” questions to understand the scope of the problem and tries to measure by how much the new account revenue target is actually being missed. After Bill determines that the new account revenue targets are likely to be missed by $5 million, he continues the conversation starting with the first box of the 9 Block Model, Box R1.
Since the buyer has admitted a problem, the next step is to ask an open question that will empower the buyer. How much you discover at this point depends on how talkative your buyer is and his or her degree of expertise. In this example, the buyer is not particularly open, causing the salesperson to work harder.
Salesperson: Tell me about it—what is causing you to have this problem of missing your new account revenue targets?
Buyer: I’ve been thinking about it, but I haven’t really been able to put my finger on the whole problem. I’m not sure even where to start. Let me tell you how we do it today. Our salespeople have assigned accounts. Any time an order is placed by a customer with an account, he or she must place that order through their assigned salesperson.
Salesperson: I’d like to ask a few questions. May I?
Buyer: Please, go ahead.
The open question invites the buyer to talk about the problem. In this case, the buyer doesn’t know the answer, doesn’t really elaborate too much, or is just reluctant to discuss it. However, having asked the open question first gives the salesperson the permission to continue on to and ask some control questions.
Note: During this conversation when the buyer admits a reason for his pain, Bill Hart then attempts to ask some additional control questions (not shown on the Pain Sheet graphic in Chapter Seven). We call these additional questions “drill-down” questions because they allow a salesperson to drill down on each reason to better understand the scope of the buyer’s problem. This also allows the salesperson to establish value for his or her capabilities. These drill-down questions should be included on Pain Sheets.
Having conducted precall planning and research, the salesperson has already prepared control questions. Control passes to the salesperson, which the buyer invited. The Pain Sheet example from Chapter Seven shows a list of four possible reasons for a given pain with four corresponding capabilities (visions) that address each reason. We will only demonstrate uncovering two of the four possible reasons.
Salesperson: Are you missing new account revenue targets because your salespeople spend too much time handling repeat business in existing accounts?
Buyer: Yes, they spend so much time doing what I call order taking and not really selling to their current assigned accounts. This takes away from the time that they could be selling to new accounts.
Salesperson: What amount of revenue is generated from this repeat business? [This is where the salesperson drills down to explore the first reason.]
Buyer: Last year we saw $80 million in revenue.
Salesperson: And what percentage of that revenue requires no selling or, to use your words, order taking?
Buyer: I would say at least 10 percent, or $8 million.
Salesperson: What percentage of a salesperson’s time is spent on these order-taking activities?
Buyer: I would say 5 percent of the overall day is spent on those activities.
Salesperson: My research shows that you have approximately fifty salespeople?
Salesperson: What is the average quota per salesperson?
Buyer: Approximately $2 million each.
Salesperson: Back to the order-taking activities—how much of that time—5 percent—would you like salespeople focused on new account sales activities?
Buyer: Well, all of it.
Salesperson: Do you think that the same rate of revenue attainment could occur with new accounts as it does with existing ones?
Buyer: Yes, I really do.
Salesperson: Just looking at the numbers quickly, it looks like if each sales representative could spend that order-taking time focused on selling to new accounts, that could bring in $100,000 per salesperson—or $5 million a year.
Buyer: Just listening to the numbers, I don’t think I would have guessed it was that high, but that does seem to be right.
In addition to establishing the first reason for the problem, the salesperson was also able to measure its value to the company. Bill continues on to uncover another reason.
Salesperson: Could another reason be that your salespeople spend too much time answering frequently asked questions (or FAQs) from their current customers in their assigned accounts?
Buyer: Oh yes, this is probably a bigger issue than the order-taking situation I described.
Salesperson: Well, again—what percentage of their time is being spent on those types of activities?
Buyer: They probably spend 15 percent of their day answering FAQs.
Salesperson: Again, how much time do you think should be devoted to that?
Buyer: Frankly, none. They’re salespeople, not customer support.
Salesperson: How many new accounts did each sales rep acquire last year?
Buyer: On average, each sales rep was probably assigned ten new accounts.
Salesperson: And what was the average revenue per new account?
Buyer: I would guess conservatively that it was about $75,000 each.
Salesperson: If the salespeople were freed from answering FAQs, could they bring in one new account with the saved time?
Buyer: They probably should bring in more, but one account does sound good.
Salesperson: Is it reasonable, then, that if all fifty reps could bring in one new account each and those accounts yielded at least $75,000, you could bring in $3.75 million in revenue toward your new account revenue goals?
Buyer: Again, I never thought of the potential as that large, but I think that’s a reasonable figure.
At some point, when the salesperson has covered the main reasons for Steve’s pain, it’s time to confirm the information.
Salesperson: So, it sounds like from what we’ve just discussed that the reasons you’re not hitting your new account revenue targets are (1) that your salespeople spend too much time handling repeat business in existing accounts and (2) they’re also spending too much time answering FAQs, and this is taking away from their task of prospecting into new accounts. Looking quickly at the numbers, it appears this could be costing you close to $9 million in revenue a year. Is that right?
Buyer: Yes, it is.
Having completed the diagnosis of the reasons for the VP Sale’s critical business issue, it’s time to move on and explore the impact of the problem on the organization.
Salesperson: Besides yourself, who else in your organization is impacted because the new account revenue targets are being missed? And how are they impacted?
Buyer: Well, I know our salespeople are frustrated because they’re challenged with hitting their quotas. It tends to bring morale down.
The buyer reveals a direct impact of this problem on the salespeople, but Bill proceeds to make additional and more far-reaching connections.
Even though some information may have been provided by the buyer at the beginning of this part of the conversation, it’s important to continue to connect the problem throughout the organization. The salesperson can either ask outright, “Is the VP Finance impacted by this problem of missing new account revenue targets?” Or the salesperson could use the Socratic method, as in the following dialogue:
Salesperson: If the new account revenue targets are being missed, is that causing your overall revenue goals to be missed?
Buyer: It really is having a huge impact on that.
Salesperson: Have you seen profits affected because of this?
Buyer: Our profits have been stagnant, but at this rate, the overall profit targets of the company will be missed.
Salesperson: Do you know what the profit margins are here at TGI?
Buyer: I think they’re around 30 percent, but I’m not exactly sure.
Salesperson: Which person in your organization is going to be most impacted by missed profit targets?
Buyer: That would be Jim Smith, our VP Finance.
Salesperson: Have the declining profits had any major effect on the value of your stock?
Buyer: Well, as you can imagine, we’re all shareholders here. The earnings per share have slipped, but I would say that the declining profits have affected us more in our ability to grow our business.
Salesperson: Who is looking to grow the business here at TGI?
Buyer: We all are, but this is really our CEO’s initiative, Susan Brown.
In the same way that R3 was summed up, it’s time to confirm the salesperson’s understanding of the impacts.
Salesperson: So, from what I just heard, it sounds like your salespeople are frustrated with the effort it requires to hit their quotas, the VP Finance is challenged with hitting his profit targets, and your CEO is finding it difficult to grow TGI’s business. It sounds like this is not just your problem in sales and marketing, but a companywide problem. Is that correct?
Buyer: Bill, I can’t disagree. You seem to have a real handle on our issues here at TGI.
Having diagnosed the reasons for Steve’s pain and explored the impact on others at TGI, Bill can now go on to build a vision of a solution. He does this by getting the buyer to visualize the capabilities needed.
First, the salesperson asks an open question, which empowers the buyer. The salesperson also finds out if in fact there is a competing vision or whether the buyer has come to some vision during the dialogue. Remember, asking open questions first earns a salesperson the right to explore control questions.
Salesperson: What is it going to take for you to be able to achieve your new account revenue targets for the year?
Buyer: It’s apparent that we need to free our salespeople up from some of the activities that they’re currently engaged in so they can focus on selling, but I’m not quite sure how we can do that. That’s part of the reason I agreed to see you.
Salesperson: I understand; can I try a few ideas on you?
The buyer doesn’t have a vision and has invited the salesperson to offer whatever ideas there may be.
This is where all Bill’s hard work in R2 (control questions, diagnose reasons) pays off. This happens in part because he has built those questions around the capabilities of his products and services. Since there were two confirmed reasons for the buyer’s pain, there are two capabilities that should be described in this conversation.
Salesperson: Earlier, you mentioned that salespeople spend too much time order taking with their current assigned accounts. You indicated that it takes away from the time that they could be selling to new accounts. What if your customers could view inventory levels and then place an order on their own and have it allocated and confirmed on the Internet, so that the salespeople could be free from taking orders, and they could devote that time to selling to new accounts?
Buyer: I like the sound of that a lot.
Salesperson: If customers could do that, do you think your salespeople could bring in the $5 million in additional revenue that we figured earlier?
Buyer: Well, Bill, since they’re assigned accounts, I can’t imagine that the salespeople would never have to interface with them, but I think we could realistically say that we should see a good bit of that revenue number attained.
Salesperson: Just how much?
Buyer: I would say at least 80 percent, or $4 million.
Each capability is brought up one at a time to provide the buyer with ideas on how to solve the problem.
Salesperson: Earlier, you also mentioned that salespeople spend too much time answering FAQs from their current customers in their assigned accounts. What if customers who have questions could click on a FAQ Web menu to get answers or could select a help option to connect to the appropriate person in the company, such as customer service so that the salespeople could be free from answering redundant questions, and they could devote that time to selling to new accounts?
Buyer: I like the sound of that too.
Salesperson: If customers could do that, do you think your salespeople could bring in the $3.75 million in revenue that we figured earlier?
Buyer: Well, Bill, once again, since they’re assigned accounts, I think the salespeople will still have to devote some time to them, but I think we could see a good bit of that revenue number attained too.
Salesperson: Just how much?
Buyer: I would still say at least 80 percent, or $3 million.
This summary of the accepted capabilities is really the buying vision. Notice how it’s structured: If you had the ability to do A plus B, then could you obtain your (goal)? (The goal being the inverse of the pain.) Also, note how the salesperson has calculated the value in this particular dialogue.
Salesperson: Steve, I just want to confirm our conversation here. So, if you had the ability for (A) customers who want to place orders to view inventory levels, place an order on their own, and have it allocated and confirmed over the Internet as well as (B) allow customers to answer their own questions by clicking on an FAQ Web menu to get those answers or a help option to connect to the appropriate person in the company, then could you regain what appears to be a total of $7 million in new account revenue, actually surpassing the shortfall that you shared with me earlier?
Buyer: Bill, I really do believe that we could. How do we get started?
Our salesperson has completed the vision processing method. He has taken the buyer from an admitted pain through a diagnosis of the pain, explored the impact of the pain on the organization, and arrived at a shared vision of a solution—while establishing value for his offering.
How long does this take? Some salespeople and sales situations may only require a few minutes; others may take an extended period of time. If it’s overkill—that is, the situation doesn’t warrant spending this kind of time—fine; use what is applicable to the situation. On the other hand, if it’s a complex situation with multiple people involved, vision processing may take place over several meetings or conference calls. You might only accomplish getting through the reasons column on the first call and the impact column on the second call, and then need a third call to describe capabilities.
Diagnosing problems and creating visions of solutions that are biased to what you sell are critical to sales success. Never underestimate the importance of this activity to you and to your prospective customers.