In this column, we’ll discuss the Create step in Solution Selling for Ag. You have three objectives at this step:
- Stimulate interest in your offer or service.
- Get the prospective customer to admit to “pain” or a business problem they have.
- Gain permission to continue the dialogue and agree on next steps.
You are not selling anything at the Create step, because you don’t know what the customer’s problem is yet, so any recommendations you make would likely not be on target.
Throughout these Solution Selling for Ag columns, I will reference various “job aides” that guide the selling process. Think of them as markers on the road, with Solution Selling as the overall map for getting to where we want to go: successfully closing the sale with a customer, and setting ourselves up for repeat business. There are two key job aides at the Create step: a Reference Story and initial Value Proposition.
We’ll deal with the Reference Story first. A Reference Story is most useful with prospects, but can be successfully used with current customers who are only giving you a part of their business. In these cases you are looking to capture additional opportunity. An example is shown below.
The Reference Story presents a potential grower business problem (pain), and offers an example of how you helped solve a similar problem for someone else. Properly chosen, the Reference Story establishes credibility and creates interest with the grower to discuss his own problem.
Getting Pain Admitted
Solution Selling is not prescription based. Rather, we collaborate with the customer to develop customized solutions for his problem. Unless we know what the problem is, our proposed solutions are clumsy, cookie-cutter efforts that can just as easily be found on the Internet.
The first thing we learn about pain or customer problems in Solution Selling is “pain flows through a grower’s entire operation.” In life, one problem is typically linked to another problem. With proper questioning techniques, we uncover the customer’s “pain chain” to get at root causes, so our solutions and recommendations are focused. In the example, I show an initial pain chain based on a potential revenue problem. As we ask additional questions, we refine our understanding of the grower’s problems and develop a customized solution that addresses his needs. At this point, however, I don’t have a real understanding of what the “reasons” for the pain are, so I write down several options I can discuss with the grower. Developing pain chains should become an integral part of your pre-call planning.
OK — you’ve prepared yourself on some potential issues the grower might be facing. Let’s dig deeper into getting pain admitted. At this point in the sales call, you have introduced yourself (with a prospect), and likely shared a Reference Story to build credibility. A good way to transition to getting pain admitted is to say something like: “But enough about my company. Tell me about your situation.” Depending on how freely the grower is prepared to speak, you may need to help the situation by asking either “Situation Questions” or “Menu of Pain” questions.
Situation questions present the customer with a potential scenario in which they can provide information about what their business situation might be. Here are some examples you could use with prospects and current customers:
With Prospects. “Do you believe your current retailer has helped you maximize your returns?”
“Has product availability ever caused down time or adjustments in your crop plans?”
With Current Customers. “How could we better meet your needs in terms of the products and services we provide?”
“Help me understand how we could better help you achieve your goals?”
Alternatively, you might ask “Menu of Pain” questions. For example: “The top three difficulties we are hearing from other customers of other retailers are:
I believe I am leaving yield on the table.
I need help adopting new technology.
I’ve had difficulty sitting down with my retailer to resolve performance concerns. Are you facing any of these issues today?”
“Are you curious how we have helped our customers deal with these issues?”
The Create step in Solution Selling stimulates interest for your product or service offer.
To do this, we need to target a potential customer problem, otherwise we are likely shooting in the dark. After introducing the reason for our call, we might use a Reference story the grower can relate to which will encourage further discussion. We transition to getting pain admitted by asking the grower to tell us about his situation or operation. This gives us the opportunity of asking either Situation or Pain type questions which will help us develop an initial Value Proposition we can present. Building Value Propositions and moving the dialogue to the Develop step is our topic for next month.
Regrettably, this overview is from a 30,000-foot level. I would be pleased to answer any of your questions in an e-mail or on the phone.