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It’s been a while since I’ve read a sales book. In reflecting on that, I found this quote from Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play to be incredibly apt: “Many business development methodologies tend to emphasize completeness and thoroughness over ease of adoption and application. They are very good but rarely used, and thus are not as helpful as they could be.”
I’ve always prided myself on being an “authentic” salesperson; constantly putting the client’s needs first. Good intentions, no clear process. Having now devoured Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play cover to cover, I’m delighted to share that I believe I’ve found my process. One that genuinely works from the position of helping the client get what they want; something I’ve always believed to be at the root of all successful transactions.
The Big Idea
Go for the Win-Win
"Helping clients succeed is not an attempt to be nice; it is not philanthropic or selfless. It is a powerful, if paradoxical, means of getting what we want."
For those familiar with Stephen Covey’s landmark book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the expression, “Go for the Win-Win” will sound familiar. (It’s one of the seven habits.) And for good reason. The authors of Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig are true students of Covey and have woven his timeless lessons into this book. (Covey even wrote the forward.)
The subtitle of the book – Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship – is more than a tagline, it’s the true objective of this book. And the good news is that, as the seller, the power is truly in your hands. As Khalsa and Illig state repeatedly, it really comes down to a matter of intent. What’s your true goal when you enter into the sales process? Is it to “make the sale”, like 99% of the other vendors out there? Or is it to genuinely help a client solve a problem.
Zig Ziglar said years ago that, “You can get everything you want in life, if you help enough people get what they want.” And that’s what Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play is about. It’s a book for people who want to escape the feeling of “selling”, and embrace the notion of helping the client solve their problems; the problems that matter to them, in a way that resonates with their larger objectives.
Nice sentiment. But how do we do that?
A Fourth Approach
"Of course, we consultants do not like to call it guessing - we call it diagnosis, assessment, analysis. Yet, if one didn't know any better, it would look a lot like guessing."
As Khalsa and Illig explain, most of us in sales pursue one or more of the following traditional approaches when interacting with a client:
- We tell. (About our product/service, our success stories, our bells and whistles)
- We accept. (We propose a solution based on exactly what they told us without digging deeper)
- We guess. (See quote above about guessing)
But of course we do. What’s the alternative? It comes back to intent. If you had genuine intention of helping the client find the ideal solution to their unique problem, wouldn’t you want to know what the true issue was first? Wouldn’t you dig a little deeper, get to know the real hurdles, challenges and pain points? Wouldn’t you want to connect with the client’s hopes and aspirations? Of course you would.
Khalsa and Illig suggest that a far more impactful way to engage the client is through mutual exploration. The entire first half of their book is dedicated to what mutual exploration means (in detail), but suffice it to say that it comes down to using your initial time with a client to talk about them. Not just about you and your offering. It starts with Moving off the Solution (more on that in insight #2), then Getting out All the Issues, Prioritizing the Issues, Gathering evidence and impact and Exploring context and constraints.
Where in there did you hear “show them how great our product is”? You didn’t. The reason being that the initial conversations with a client is not about selling. It’s about learning more about the client so that if/when you do present your solution, it’s presented in a way that addresses their unique needs. A big part of the exploration process is that you are coming to a mutual understanding of the problem. Once it’s been defined (and provided your solution actually addresses their needs) it’s a much easier sale; primarily because the client knows as well as you do exactly what they need. (Reminds me of that great quote – “people hate to be sold, but they love to buy.”)
And what happens if it turns out they don’t actually need your solution? You exit gracefully. Because if you truly can’t help them, (here’s the kicker) they weren’t going to buy from you anyway. Better to know up front and avoid a lot of extra time (theirs and yours).
Move Off the Solution
"The short and sweet rule of qualifying the Opportunity is: No pain, no gain = no opportunity. In a business context, the word "problem" is a synonym for pain; the word "result" is a synonym for gain."
It’s easy for us to get dazzled by our own bells and whistles. To want to talk about how great we are because of our unique new feature. Unfortunately, if the “new feature” doesn’t address the needs of the client, they really don’t care. And now you’ve just wasted their time. Particularly in the early days of the client relationship build, you want to spend as much time talking about the client as possible. And not about yourself. The goal here is to side step “features and benefits” until you have a clear sense of the client needs. Khalsa and Illig talk about this as Moving off the Solution. And here’s the formula:
Listen + Softening Statement + Move
If you’re in sales, or have been in the past, you’ve often faced the “Show me what you’ve got” statement in the first two minutes of a meeting. Resist the urge to do so. If your product is sophisticated (at all), you could likely spend hours talking about it and never cover everything. True, right? Use that. Integrate it into the formula above. It might look something like this:
PROSPECT: “Okay, show me what you’ve got.”
YOU: “Sure. I could talk for hours with great enthusiasm – and that may not be what you want. Do you mind if I ask…?”
YOU: “I’d be glad to. In order to keep my comments relevant to your situation, could I ask…?”
YOU: “We’ve helped many companies address business problems with (the requested solution) and each one had different priorities and objectives. Would it be okay if we started out talking a bit about…?”
And what do you fill the blank with? Well, that’s entirely up to you. Just make it about the client, make it relevant and remember your intention – To help the customer find the right solution to their problem.
Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play is my new sales bible. The approach of the authors is authentic, thorough and fresh. Their results are proven, as they’ve built their wildly successful sales training program ninetyfive-5 around it, and their concepts are being used globally. I found the book rich with structure, specific case studies and examples. But just as I started to become overwhelmed with the thoroughness of it , they’d remind me of the underlying theme – intent counts for more than structure. That’s a mantra I can get behind. The rest will come with practice.