The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool. – Richard Feynman
Building a pipeline of prospects can sometimes seem like an impossible task, especially when you’re a small business or starting up.
You probably don’t have a clear idea of exactly what you have to offer, or what customers will buy or which market you should enter to be profitable.
That’s because often existing businesses offer something similar to what you’re doing to customers that you might want to work with. That can be intimidating – what makes you different?
How do you know that you have something that can work. After all, it’s rare that you’ll come up with the perfect product at exactly the right time when a gap opens up in the market with customers desperate for what you’re offering.
It’s rather like driving down a road when dark with your headlights on and without a satnav. You can’t see the whole road, just the bit in front of you lit up by the lights. You’ve got to make your decisions based on what you see and hope that everything works out.
Being alert can help. Watching out for signs, looking for confirmation that you’re on the right road and stopping sometimes to ask directions can all help you get to where you want to go.
How can that approach help you when it comes to selling – especially consultative selling?
Perhaps one way to get started is to throw away the rulebook – if you have one. What kind of things don’t help us here?
The first thing that doesn’t help is thinking of anything we do as selling. If we think about a prospect’s situation in binary terms – they either need what we’re offering or they don’t. Then, they either know about us, or don’t.
If they don’t need what we’re offering – it doesn’t matter if they know us or not – unless they know someone else that does need it.
It’s only when they do need it that we have a chance at having a conversation.
Everyone now knows that when you know you need something you’re going to start by doing some research – by going to the Internet and looking up what’s available. Pretty soon you’re going to be as well informed as any salesperson that calls on you on the options you have.
So, it’s safest to assume that every prospect is an informed prospect. Anything you say will add to what they know. That’s only rational.
Except, when it comes to a consultative sale, being rational has nothing to do with it.
Picture this. You call on a prospect and sit there, in your expensive suit with an expensive pad and pen taking notes. You take them through your product options, explain how they all work and then get them to choose what they want from what you have to offer.
A job well done.
It never really seems to happen that way in reality. Do you trust people in shiny suits?
There are other professions that seem to offer a different approach worth considering.
Take journalists and detectives. These two spend their time hunting for the truth – and the truth is often found where emotions run high.
It’s emotions that create motive. And, when you couple motive with means and opportunity, you have a crime scene.
Except we want to make a sale, not a mess. We just want to find out what our prospect feels about most strongly, because that will help us figure out whether we have something to offer, or can create something to offer them.
You can figure out where people are in a funnel if you know how they feel about a particular situation. At the broadest end, they may have a problem. One segment down, they may be aware they have a problem. Then, perhaps they’ve started looking for a solution.
Further down, they’ve put in some work. They’ve tried to build something themselves. This is a good sign – it means they haven’t found anything that works for them.
That also means that they will probably buy a solution if it’s the right one.
Steve Blank calls people at the narrow end of the funnel Earlyvangelists. They’re the ones that will reach for what you have even if it’s not fully there yet because they need it. They can also help you refine and design and figure out how to make something that really works.
So, how do you figure out how people feel about their situation? That’s when your reporter’s pad comes out and you start asking questions.
How many reporters do you think go out and talk about what they think about a situation?
What they’re looking for is the story – where is tension being created, where are things going wrong, where are the things we should feel strongly about?
Some create this tension artificially – by simply taking two people with opposing positions and letting them fight it out with prepared statements. That’s not what you’re trying to do.
What you’re trying to do is get the real story. Find the quote that sums things up. The one where the prospect, in her own words, tells you how much of a pain this particular problem is, what she’s tried to do to solve it before and why it really needs sorting out.
At that point, you have a prospect who is ready to buy.
The only question left is whether you have a thing that she can buy.
If not, can you build it?