Well, when you get sick, do you ever go onto WebMD before you visit the Doctor? So when you show up at the doctor’s office, all you want him to do is to write you a prescription for what you feel you need? And if the market for buying prescription medicine was truly competitive, wouldn’t you also be looking for a better price?
Don’t you think customers do the same thing before they speak with a salesperson? If we accept the current research from The Challenger Sale, customers are 57% of the way through the buying cycle before they engage a salesperson. Because they’ve already done most of their research online, Customers may have already decided what they want to buy, so they may only be looking for salespeople to provide the best price.
Now if customers could go online and buy the right solution, they wouldn’t need us. But Doctors and salespeople will tell you that they don’t make good decisions on their own. Imagine a doctor, for example, asking a patient, “what’s wrong?” And the patient says, “I was bitten by a mosquito, and with the West Nile virus in the area, I’m concerned. According to WebMD, I have the identical symptoms, and the recommended treatment is penicillin.” “I see,” says the doctor, “let me write you a prescription right away.” Of course this would never happen, because it’s the doctor’s job to challenge their patient’s self-diagnosis. Doctors have to re-teach what their patients have learned online so that their patients end up with the right treatment.
It’s the same with salespeople. With the proliferation of information and advice on the internet, customers are drowning in information. They don’t need more information. What they need is to know what the information means. They need insight. So the days of the walking brochure salesperson is dead. Today, salespeople need to be able to challenge the status quo by delivering insights that cause the customer to re-examine if the risk of the status quo is greater than the risk of change.
But how do you challenge the status quo, without challenging the customer, especially when you have salesperson written on your business card?
There are four ways to challenge customers with insights, but they’re not all equally effective:
- Directly: This can come across as an attack. And because the customer is both judge and jury, this is an argument that the salesperson will never win.
- Questions: They work best at firming up an established belief. It’s difficult, however, to lead customers to insights with questions, because they have no frame of reference that they can turn to for the answers.
- Research: Because it’s objective, customers don’t feel attacked, so it’s effective. Unfortunately, it’s scarce, so it’s seldom available.
- Insight Scenario: Because a story is about someone else, the customer doesn’t feel attacked. A story simply presents a scenario that allows the customer to draw their own conclusions. Without feeling pressured, the customer can now relax and listen to your message, and possibly gain enough insight that they start to tell themselves a new story, where new choices make more sense (click why storytelling).
But challenging the status quo requires more than just the skill to deliver insights, because it presupposes that you have insights to deliver. And what happens when these elusive insights aren’t available? It may then just come down to whoever tells the best story wins.
Interview with the author of The Challenger Sale: “How do you challenge the customer’s thinking without challenging the customer?”