If you’ve ever been a corporate seller, then you’ve probably gone through some sort of training. You’re taught to listen to your customer’s pains, and then use your product and industry expertise to find the best offer to resolve their issues. This practical approach is called ‘solution selling’, a methodology that’s been a leader in selling best practices since the 1970’s.
As a corporate seller, you’ve also probably had your fair share of getting rejected by prospects. I know I have. We’re trained to believe that people use logic and reasoning to make buying decisions; that the answer, or ‘solution’, is always right. So why do we often still fail to close a deal when the choice is clearly backed by facts?
My worldview was enlightened by the innovative strategy for communicating with customers after reading Michael Bosworth and Ben Zoldan’s What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story. The authors dove deep into solution selling’s origins, and how it was supposed to solve the “80/20” rule where 80% of the business was made by the top 20% of salespeople. They shared their findings through their own short stories, explaining why telling a story connects people emotionally and can be effective when you speak with a prospect for the first time.
Empathy + Emotion = Connecting as People
Bosworth has a deep understanding to the old approach of selling. In fact he published a best seller in 1994 called Solution Selling where he taught a methodology that uses a series of questions to uncover customer pains, then illustrates value propositions to portray the best vision of a product offer – exactly what we are trained to do today. The process has parameters however, as it requires the buyer to cooperate with the sales person and make decisions using logic and reasoning. It actually discounts the value of making an emotional connection with the buyer, or showing vulnerability, because there’s a perception that you are the all-knowing salesperson that has all the answers. Bosworth later realized that building an emotional connection was a key asset in winning over your customer.
Zoldan experienced solution selling’s fatal flaw first hand in 2008 during his time as a sales trainer. After leading a workshop, Zoldan was asked to sit in on one of his student’s sales calls with their CEO. Excited to showcase his methodology, he was stunned to see the call sharply fall into chaos when the customer became irritated and unresponsive, building tension in the room. After an awkward moment of silence had passed, the CEO spoke up about an experience he had working at a different company. Within a few minutes, the mood relaxed. The customer opened up and started telling his own stories that mixed business with family, while the CEO listened with intent. Zoldan was amazed at how quickly the air cleared by something as simple as telling a personal story.
Storytelling and High Technology
Many have said that people make decisions with emotion and justify those decisions based on logic and rationale, but for a long time that was hard to prove. This book delves into the decision process directly in the brain, using anatomy and neuroscience to analyze behavior. It explains how and why stories are a better way to connect with your audience, rather than a series of directional questions to gain better understanding of their situation. This book educates the reader through exercises and examples told in story form that teach you how to build your own stories and relate to your customers.
The high technology industry is accustomed to constant change. We frequently see technology evolve, but customer expectations speed past the industry and continuously raise the bar for how we as sellers engage with them. We need to let go of past paradigms for selling and innovate our best practices faster than we do our products.
The customer-sales person dynamic has changed. Selling has become less about products and more about building relationships. Having a conversation around KPI’s and ROI is still important but irrelevant if you’re unable to emotionally connect with your customer. While showing vulnerability may be uncomfortable, it humanizes the customer’s perception of you and eases their defenses. If you’re looking to evolve your sales skills to the next level I highly recommend you try giving this book a read.