To sell effectively, you have to know how to uncover customer pain points. Otherwise, you won’t get the chance to establish a mutually collaborative relationship with the customer.
According to Morten Hansen, a UC-Berkeley professor and author of Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results, there are a few key ways to improve your skill in excavating customer pain points.
Look for the underlying and unexpressed issues. Many customers aren’t going to come out and tell you what their pain points are. They might not know they’re suffering from those pain points, for one thing. Or, they might simply not trust an outsider (especially a salesperson) to share what those pain points are.
To discover those pain points, you need to live with customers, embed yourself with them, be on their premises, and collaborate on multiple levels, says Hansen. “Only that way can you understand what they’re actually going through and craft a solution.”
Go beyond what the customer says he or she is looking for or needs. Sometimes the customer’s expressed need represents just the launching point for a larger examination aimed at uncovering more deep-seated, systemic business concerns.
“When customers come to you with a specific need, they’ve already identified you as potentially addressing that need,” Hansen says. “So, if you sell routers, customers who believe they need routers will come to you. But pain points are very different. The pain point may not be routers – it may be that the customer has a lousy CRM system and believes new routers will make it better.”
Talk to as many people on the customer’s team as you can. Hansen acknowledges that uncovering pain points often means breaking out of the salesperson’s comfort zone to talk with people who would normally not appear on the selling radar.
“You can’t limit yourself to talking to the purchasing people,” he says, “because they don’t know what the underlying needs are. So, if you’re selling into a manufacturing plant, for example, then you have to get inside and walk the factory floor, talk to the manager running the plant – gain as many access points as you can. Admittedly, this can be a challenge, but, if you don’t ask – if you don’t try – you’re not going to get in, either.”
Call on others to help you craft solutions to pain points. Many salespeople like to play the lone wolf and win the deal all on their own. But a collaborative salesperson can often leverage relationships with people in her organization to craft a unique response for the customer – the kind of solution salespeople lower on the pyramid who are going through the traditional RFP dance would never devise.
“As you come up with these solutions, you have to think differently,” says Hansen. “You need colleagues to help you, you have to walk across the organization, you have to call in favors, and you need other people to work with you,” he says.