Many B2B experts still find themselves asking the question “Why are my sales messages not connecting with my audience?” Popular wisdom in most sales training or advice is to focus on your customer needs: let them talk about their world, their problems. Then offer solutions, focusing the conversation on outcomes and value. This advice is often tied to a quote from the American economist Theodore Levitt:
“People don’t want quarter-inch drills. They want quarter-inch holes.”
When it comes to a B2B sale, many sales experts ask businesses where they are focusing their message: on the drill (capability) or the hole (solution)?
In reality, this is a false dichotomy. It’s not an “either/or” scenario, but a “both.”
In sales, less is more… or is it?
Many sales people are reticent to share too many details about their capabilities—especially if they are very technical or have involved processes. Sales people often want to keep things high-level for fear of boring a non-technical audience, spending too much time talking about themselves, or even stumbling into territory where they may not know the answer.
Also read, Sometimes more is more: why simplicity isn’t the silver bullet for your business’s complexity
To be successful in sales, especially complex-solution sales, giving prospects a tantalizing vision of the solution is of course important, but it’s even more important to give them a crisp, concise, and tangible view of your capabilities. What expertise, tools, and methods make your company uniquely qualified to deliver that solution? Assure them that you have the tools that are capable of solving their problem and giving them what they need. A recently published Harvard Business Review article by the Corporate Executive Board Company (CEB) shows that a prescriptive sales approach (rather than a responsive one) eases purchase decisions by 86%. The same research also reports:
At CEB we’ve asked thousands of senior executives at companies around the world to describe the complex-solutions purchase process in one word. Among their responses are ‘hard,’ ‘awful,’ ‘painful,’ ‘frustrating,’ and ‘minefield.’
Ask yourself these seven questions to find your balance
Many of the sales and marketing teams that we consult with are struggling not only with finding the right balance of messages, but also the correct timing. Research shows that buyers are delaying interactions with sales teams, preferring more independent online research. In fact almost 70% of the sales journey takes place online. And those buyers may dismiss your offering if your website consists of incomplete or unclear information.
To make strategic choices about focusing on capabilities versus solutions in messages and sequences, sales and marketing teams need to ask themselves these critical questions:
- How homogenous are your customers and their problems?
- How commoditized is your market?
- What role does expertise and know-how play in differentiating your product?
- What past experiences have buyers had with similar offerings or solutions? Have they been burned by failed implementation before?
- What is the make-up of the buying team in terms of experts and non-experts?
- How can you package the details of your tools and capabilities in a way that is compelling for non-technical audiences, while still detailed enough for experts?
- What does your typical sales journey look like and what is the role of your sales team?
Companies and sales teams that fail to dive into the details of their offering risk appearing as dilettantes, or peddling vaporware. They also miss an opportunity to differentiate their product with their unique expertise. Of course, only talking about process, tools, or the company’s offerings would be a mistake. Sales and marketing teams must find the correct balance for themselves, their industry, their offering, and most importantly their customers.
Up next, Consumer Choices: Finding the Sweet Spot