Imagine this scenario. You are a local in a small Portuguese village fifty years ago. You’re walking your sheep along a country road. Suddenly you cross paths with a foreigner, who looks completely lost. How do you help the traveler out of his predicament?
You don’t just start giving directions — that would never work. First you have to find out where the traveler plans on going, by what means, and on what timeline. Only then can you open the map and help them out. (Remember, everything in life ties back to sales!)
This is the essence of solutions-based selling, also called needs-based selling or a consultative sales approach. You shouldn’t think of yourself as only a salesperson. You must also think of yourself as a trusted advisor… one who comes to the rescue of wayward prospects lost on their own country road, so to speak.
It is your job to discuss their journey, recommend solutions, give options, and most importantly deliver VALUE. The solutions-based approach to sales is all about your prospect and their wants, needs, desires. It is most certainly not about you. And that’s a good thing!
Here are a few questions or phrases that you’ll often overhear in solutions-based sales meetings.
- Yes, I completely understand
- What specifically would you change about your teams’ past year of performance?
- You mentioned you’ve used a similar vendor before, what did you like and dislike about them?
- What would change if your team increased performance by 20% in Q2?
- If you could dream for a minute, where do you want your company to be in 3-5 years down the road?
- Have you tried X? Have you tried Y?
- In my experience in your sector, I’ve found that Z.
Notice the above conversation has the following five elements: Empathize, Ask, Listen, Advise, Prescribe (EALAP). These five steps make the foundation of a solutions-based sales meeting, and the ground on which you’ll frame your offer.
Seriously, think of most occupations — from plumbers to doctors — these five elements are vital for providing value and becoming trusted in the eyes of their customer or patient. Let’s break them down one by one. Remember, this is how to structure your sales calls and meetings. So it has very practical applications — and you should put it to work starting today.
When your prospect has a leaky boat, you don’t laugh about it. And you don’t try to sell him a life insurance policy. Instead, you throw him a life preserver and say “This is terrible, I agree, but let’s get you out of this mess.” You have to step inside the leaky boat so your prospect knows you have their best interest in mind. If you nail empathy, you will gain trust fast, and your sales numbers will start to climb as a result. But if you fail to show authentic empathy, your deals are doomed from the start.
It’s time to ask questions, and I mean lots of questions. When you ask the right questions, your prospect will begin sharing about their deepest pains and desires. Continue to empathize, but take stock of the common themes that come up. Are they overwhelmed by the current state of things? Have they plateaued on sales or employee performance? Is there one big problem/pain point, or several smaller ones? Be sure to take notes as they talk — there could be one or two gems that’ll easily slip through your fingers if you’re not writing them down.
One of your main jobs as a trusted advisor is to listen. Listening is the secret weapon of top sales pros. It not only allows your prospect to divulge, as mentioned, but it gives you an aura of power and authority on the subconscious level. Listening also lets you control the pace and formulate your thoughts. Just don’t get caught in the trap of only thinking about what to say next while your prospect is talking. You listen to hear them. You listen empathetically so that you can advise them where to go and how to get there.
This is where the rubber meets the road. You are an industry expert and have the institutional knowledge to advise your prospects on how to transform their business and lives. No pressure. During the advising phase of the sales process, you simply offer your expertise. You’ll say things like “I firmly believe…” and “I’ve seen this before…” and “A few strategic changes to your process could result in millions in revenue by year’s end” and “You really need to stop doing X” and “You must begin focusing on Y.” Remember, you are their trusted advisor, so advise!
It’s time to close the sale by prescribing your offer as the solution to their pain. Remember, this is a solutions-based sales approach. So everything you’ve been discussing culminates here. Be specific about your prescription. And don’t forget to ask for the sale. You might also assume the sale if your prospect is signaling with buying signs.
I mentioned that the five steps above are “the ground on which you’ll frame your offer.” That’s true. But to really nail this type of sales approach, you almost shouldn’t be thinking about “framing your offer.” Instead you should think about helping people and providing value.
Again, borrowing from our analogy of the Portuguese man on the country road, you have to empathize with your lost prospect, ask them how they arrived at the predicament they’re in, listen to their story and listen for where they want to go next, advise them on how to get there, and finally prescribe them your solution, which is the roadmap that takes them to their destination.
One final word here. Be careful not to go too far in the trusted advisor direction. You also need to instill a sense of urgency and incentive to buy your product or service. If you don’t instill this, your prospect will feel like they can always contact you next month or next year when they really need it. It’s your job to show them they really (really) need it now.
Until next time…