Focus on Solving These Three Problems for the Greatest Payback

By Heather Baldwin

For most sales managers, the difficult part of improving sales reps’ skills is figuring out which developmental areas would provide the most benefit for your energy. In other words, of the many things you could work on with your reps, which will have the most payback?

That’s one of the questions examined by in its study “How Clients Buy,” a report that looks at how purchasers of professional services identify, evaluate and eventually hire professional service firms, and their experiences with the providers who sell to them. The study is based on responses from nearly 200 decision makers who purchase B2B professional services. Here, according to the report, are three problem areas that, when addressed, will have the greatest impact on a customer’s decision to buy.

Problem #1: Seller did not understand my needs.
This problem usually manifests itself in the proposal, either verbal or written, when a seller proposes a solution for something that isn’t what the buyer needs or doesn’t solve the buyer’s problem.
Statistics: According to the study, 40% of purchasers said service providers do not understand their needs. If sellers understood their needs, 76% of buyers said they’d be “much more likely” and 21% would be “somewhat more likely” to buy.
The fix: Train sales reps to approach the sales conversation with a mindset of talking less and understanding more, says John Doerr, co-author of the report and principal of the Wellesley Hills Group (WHG), parent company of Think of a sales call as a job interview where you’re asking questions to delve for information. When the prospect asks you a question, don’t just start talking; make sure you understand what is being asked. For example, Doerr often takes calls from people who say they want to know about WHG’s lead generation services. “I’ve found over the years that lead generation can mean many things to different people. If I just spout off about our services, I’ll probably miss what they’re looking for,” says Doerr. So instead, Doerr responds to these requests with questions of his own: Can we talk a little about what you’re looking for? Can you help me understand…? “You communicate that you’ll answer the question, but to answer it well, you need more information,” he says. “Too often people answer a question without knowing what the person asking it really wants.”

Problem #2: Seller did not listen to me.
Statistics: According to the study, 41% of purchasers said service providers did not listen to them. If they would listen, 74% of buyers said they would be “much more likely” and 19% would be “somewhat more likely” to buy.
The fix: After important sales conversations, Doerr recommends sellers send prospects a letter of understanding that outlines in writing their understanding of the prospect’s needs as related to the seller’s services. He suggests training sales reps to send the letter first, even if the prospect has asked for a proposal. That way if you get something wrong, you do so in a safe environment and the prospect can clarify the misunderstanding so your proposal is right on target.

Problem #3: Seller did not craft a compelling solution to my needs.
Statistics: According to the study, 31% of purchasers said service providers did not craft a compelling solution to their needs. If they had, 68% of buyers said they would be “much more likely” and 27% would be “somewhat more likely” to buy.
The fix: To craft a compelling solution, you need to go further than simply addressing customers’ needs. You need to show prospects the impact of what will happen if they don’t buy your service. To be able to do this, sales reps need to learn too ask impact-related questions during the fact-finding stage: If you did this, what would happen to your business? If this situation continues to exist, how will that affect your growth plans? What would be the impact on your business of not taking this step? “Format your questions to get buyers thinking about what will happen if they don’t buy your service,” says Doerr. Once you find out that they’d be six months behind on their project at a cost to the company of $500,000 you’ll have the fuel to craft a compelling solution.

For more information, or to purchase a copy of the report, visit