Old-School Tactics

By Heather Baldwin

If you sell complex products or services, how much of your presentation do you think your prospects understand – 100%, 90%? A more accurate number is 25%, says Jeff Thull, president of Prime Resource Group (www.primeresource.com) and author of The Prime Solution (Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2004). That’s right – despite hours of painstaking preparation, your customers comprehend only one quarter of what you say to them. As bad as that sounds, customers’ comprehension percentages can drop even lower in newly developed markets.

The problem, says Thull, is that most solution sellers operate with the misguided belief that customers understand their own problems, so when they hear the seller’s solution they recognize its value. Sellers believe, says Thull, “customers are able to differentiate the value of the competitive offerings and, in essence, are fully capable of making an informed, quality decision.” These are incorrect beliefs rooted in old eras of selling.

In the 1950s, Thull explains, B2B sellers had only to show their product and customers would decide whether or not it made sense to buy it. An escalator, for example, was simply a conveyer of people between levels and its price, parts and appearance were inherent in the product itself. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, however, B2B transactions became more sophisticated as sellers added value by enhancing the bundle of intangibles that accompanied their products. The escalator in this era, says Thull, “may have included, among other things, a financing scheme, an installation plan and a service and support agreement – each of which had to be understood, evaluated and implemented.”

Today, we are in a third era in which the complexity of problems has expanded beyond buyers’ easy comprehension. Technological advancements, environmental considerations, workplace issues and safety regulations make it far more difficult for buyers to understand their own situations, the proposed solutions and the solution implementation process. Yet most solution sellers prepare their sales presentations as if customers had these elements firmly in their grasp.

Which era are you selling in? Take a look at your sales presentation. You’re operating in the second era, says Thull, “If it is inward looking, focused on you, your company, your solution and its benefits, and the future you can deliver for the customer.” Such seller-focused presentations assume too much understanding on the part of the customer.

To orient your presentation to today’s era, shift your presentation to the problem and your customers’ world. “Today’s customers need as much help understanding the extent and cost of their problems as they do understanding your solutions,” says Thull. “Thus, we would expect to see approximately half of a presentation or proposal focused on clarifying the customer’s situation, business challenges and objectives.” Only then will you start to see more ah-ha! moments from your customers – and more of them saying yes.