When everybody’s selling ‘solutions,’ what sets you apart?
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  • Blog post

When everybody’s selling ‘solutions,’ what sets you apart?

When everyone else in your market is selling “solutions” and asking the same tell-me-what-you-do questions, how can you set yourself apart?

Your best opportunity to stand out from the competition lies in becoming a true consultant to the business, says sales coach Ken Valla.

It’s a “next level” approach that, in addition to setting you apart from the rest of the “solution sellers,” will:

  • Position you as someone who can deliver improved efficiency, productivity and profits.
  • Build stronger relationships with key decision makers throughout the organization, not just one sponsor.
  • Demonstrate that you “get” what matters to company leadership.
  • More clearly link your product or service offering to a concrete strategic problem affecting the company’s future success.

A deeper understanding
You already know how important it is to do your homework about a prospect. But the kind of information you really need isn’t going to come from a quick Internet search or the company’s annual report. You need to probe deeply to get the insights your competitors will miss.

You need to learn what matters most to the executives who “own” the key business processes in the company. And that comes from asking each of them a different set of questions, focused on the customer’s core business processes. That will give you a much clearer picture of how you can help the company become more efficient and profitable.

A process conversation
You can get business process information only by talking to the right people in the right parts of the organization. That means you need to go beyond your initial internal contact or sponsor at a company, to call on “process owners.” Of course it’s more work, but the payoffs can be great.

For example, say you’re selling surgically implantable devices, such as artificial hips or knees.

You can call on orthopedic surgeons or hospital administrators. But unless you call on the CFO you may not learn that the core issue for a hospital is the high cost of inventory and the slow pace of third-party reimbursement. Would knowing that — and offering a solution to the problem (such as financing) — give you a leg up on the competition? You bet!

Here’s how to approach a process conversation:

From your initial contact at a company — preferably an internal sponsor or champion — learn as much as you can about the other process owners you need to call on. Consider what aspects of their process might be strategically important — especially the success measures. Of course, what is most important will differ from one functional head to another.

Establish the purpose
Many of the people you contact may not have a clear idea of why they should be talking with you. Explain that you simply want to learn more about how the organization works, how you fit in, and how you might be able to improve effectiveness and profitability.

Get the lay of the land
Your first questions should be designed to help you understand the processes and how they all fit together. Key questions to ask:

  • What has to go right in your operation for you to be successful?
  • What’s working well for you? Are there any areas that are not going as well as you would like?
  • How does your area of responsibility connect with other parts of the business?
  • Who provides inputs to you? Where do your outputs go and how are they used?
  • Tell me how your area adds value to the organization.

Find things to fix
Next, ask follow-up questions to uncover flaws in the processes. For example: “So exactly why are your inventory costs so high?” You learn that each surgeon orders his or her own devices directly from the manufacturer. You help centralize the ordering system and you’re everybody’s hero.

By talking to more people and asking deeper questions, you may identify all sorts of issues like these that can affect the company’s ability to meet high-level strategic goals. Often, nobody’s addressed those problems because nobody’s taken a step back to identify them or has time to fix them. When you step in with a solution, you make a substantive contribution to the overall success of your buyer’s business.

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