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Why Selling Solutions Is No Longer Enough

The greatest expense in any company is LOST SALES

You don’t realize it because it never hits your books – it hits the other guy’s books. If you had to write off lost sales they would become visible and your CFO, CEO, and the analysts will be clamoring for better hiring and sales training.

Research from CSO Insights in 2012 showed that less than 50% of forecasted deals actually were won. About 24% stalled and bought nothing from anyone. About 30% were lost to competition. This is a huge failure rate on deals that sales reps thought they were going to win.

Many salespeople have taken courses early in their career over the last 30 years to teach them how to do consultative selling or selling solutions – learning how to discover pains, link their solutions, and present a proposal based on how they would meet the customer’s needs with a good ROI.

This is a sound fundamental selling skill but it is no longer enough to win complex sales in today’s economy. In any committee buying process today you must have a political strategy, a relationship strategy, a competitive strategy and a closing strategy or you are going into a gunfight with a knife. Your reps will get outsold and over half their time in a year will be wasted.

Here are 12 insights, flaws and developments that we have discovered that make additional competencies and processes necessary for your salesforce or you will be consistently outsold.

1 They Often Don’t Really Know What They Need

One of the most successful companies in the world, Apple, doesn’t do any market research. It figures out what people want and builds great products for them. Quite often people haven’t even imagined a product like this was possible to have it be a need or a pain? Nobody ever wrote an RFP looking for an iPhone or iTunes, but when they first saw it they had to have it.

2 They Don’t Agree

We do an organizational assessment of a salesforce’s best practices and performance as a free service to companies that are interested in improving sales performance. For about 50 best practices we simply ask “How important is this to you?” and “How well do you execute?” It produces an eye-opening snapshot telling you where to improve the most and the fastest.

But what we were not expecting was that the CEO, The VP of Sales, sales managers, and the sales reps often differed on what they thought their problems were. This is why committees seldom reach a consensus in the complex sale. They disagree on what’s needed from the beginning. It often results in a power struggle where the most powerful person with the most strategic business problem prevails. It is in this phase that salespeople lose half their forecast and it is not addressed in other sales methodologies.

The CEO says this best practice is important and we are terrible at it, sales managers say it’s not very important and they’re pretty good at it, and the sales reps say that it’s very important and that we stink at it. If you ask them what keeps him awake at night you will get different answers. This is when politics enters in because the needs of the most powerful people usually prevail.

I experienced this at the end of an evaluation for sales methodology at a major software company where we had just won but while we were packing up we mentioned that we had a training program just for sales managers. The client said, “Sit back down. We actually need that first. We’ve got several camps of culture due to acquisitions and we need to get everyone aligned again.” We had done discovery with the middle management and they had never mentioned that problem. Why not? They were the problem.

3 Needs Change During an Evaluation

How often has the client told you that they wanted one thing and then bought from someone else based on a feature they never mentioned?

Neil Rackham, who did the original research on consultative selling, actually documented this phenomenon. Prospects want something early in the sale and different things at the end.

But what he didn’t address is that good salespeople can change the prospect’s needs in their favor by helping them understand their own problem better or by showing how they can solve a problem that they haven’t thought of yet.

4 They Actually Need More Than They Say They Want

Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘Faster horses.’” Sometimes clients ask for a myopic solution to a problem that is only a symptom of a deeper root cause. Or they ask for a product or technical feature that ignores the issue of behavior change management. In both cases the customer probably will not get the results that they hoped for.

A common sales strategy is to show them a more complete solution that addresses all aspects of functionality, service, installation, and sustainability, but the stakeholder needs to be someone who can see the bigger picture and has the power to shift the vision of a solution.

5 Some Needs Are Personal, Political, or Hidden Agendas

Often some of the most powerful buying motives are hidden but very powerful. Political benefits can’t be discussed in a group but can often shape the outcome of a sale much to the surprise and disappointment of a sales rep. You must uncover them by building rapport with each stakeholder, then get them by themselves and ask what they are looking for from this engagement or solution.

Political agendas may include: Peer respect, satisfied boss, promotion, job stability, retirement, unions, influence, image, reciprocity, personal agendas, revenge, or risk. These may sometimes be at odds with the organizational agenda (resume padding) or even illegal (bribes, conflicts of interest) so be very careful.

6 Not All Needs Are Equal

Some needs are operational, technical or tactical. Executives need solutions to strategic pains (or gains). Solving the bigger problem for a more powerful stakeholder usually trumps the operational issues and often means you have a better chance at winning a big deal than a small one. You not only get competitive advantage, you also get better dollars.

7 Stakeholders Don’t Agree on Priorities

Evaluations often start out logical but turn emotional and political when the buyer discovers that there is not a consensus and that they can’t get everything from one vendor. And they don’t have a formal process to decide when they can’t decide and deals stall out.

Often power struggles break out in what we call “the crucible.” What the prospect said in the initial discovery can now change drastically. This is where half of pipelines disappear and also where most methodologies are weak.

At this point a stakeholder analysis that includes Pain, Power, Part, and the decision Process can give you a strategy to either get the individual’s key votes or live without them. Quote and hope salespeople are usually clueless of what is going on at this critical time.

8 Not All Stakeholders Are Equal

Some power in a company is invisible. By power we mean influence without authority. The people who will prevail in a selection and who can kick a deal across a CFO’s desk have built it or lost it in over 60 different ways that we have identified.

You can’t afford to nor do you need to spend time doing pain discovery with everyone. The quicker you sort out who has power and define a political strategy as to how you will get to them, and what you will say, the less time you will waste selling to the wrong people.

9 Competitors Create “Needs”

Often the prospect says they need one thing and them buys another. This is because you were outsold. The competitive sales rep convinced them that they really needed some capability or feature that you don’t have. If you had known about it through good competitive intelligence, you could have anticipated and predicted it or qualified out if it was a “must have.”

10 Approve Needs Differ From Selector Needs

In today’s selling, getting approved after you have been selected often takes as long as getting picked. New stakeholders arise from legal, procurement, IT, HR or Finance. They want all new things so new discovery aimed at their needs is required at this point in order to define a closing strategy.

11 Discovery With Executives is Different

You can no longer go into an executive’s office and ask “Well what keeps you awake at night?” You should have either done that discovery with other people, or online, or be enough of a vertical industry expert to anticipate their pains.

12 Demand Creation Selling Has a Different Rhythm

In this down economy, salespeople are finding that marketing and customer bases cannot generate enough leads for them to make goal. They must pick up a phone and call a stranger – and most haven’t prospected in years.

If the prospect has invited you, they will probably allow you a day or so to do discovery or they will provide you with an RFP and a chance to ask questions if you make the short list.

But if you called the prospect, you don’t have time to play “twenty questions.” When you reach them, (which is another part of the process for a different time) you have about twenty seconds to engage them with a provocative point of view statement in order to get the next five minutes in order to get an appointment for a longer call.

The “cadence” or rhythm of the sales call is different and faster since most executives are busy and many have trouble focusing. Here again you should have either done your discovery elsewhere before the call or addressed the strategic issues of your industry in which you are an expert and have vital information to share to help them do their job better. And you also need a provocative “one-floor elevator pitch” that quickly positions what your company does differently or better than the others.

If you are only doing discover-link-present training without opportunity, account, political, solution, and competitive strategies you have in incomplete process and training regimen.

You wouldn’t play golf with only one club and you need about 4 to 6 training programs to give your sales force a full arsenal of the skills and strategies that they need to compete. Hope is not a strategy for developing sales talent either.


No matter what markets you compete in, The Complex Sale can help you win more business. TCS is a premiere sales enablement and methodology company that helps you drive revenue by creating pipeline, winning more opportunities and dominating your strategic accounts.

We provide the sales training, coaching, metrics and change management approach you need to make winning a habit in your organization.

Founded in 1994 by Rick Page, author of sales bestseller Hope Is Not a Strategy – The 6K eys to Winning the Complex Sale and Make Winning a Habit- 20 Best Practices of the World’s Greatest Sale Forces, TCS has trained thousands of salespeople and managers and transformed sales organizations all over the world. Contact us to find out how TCS can help you create a process that sticks and provides sustainable results.