Almost every B2B sales team has been told over and over again to sell the value of their offering—not the product features. Whether you call it value, outcomes, or benefits, the message to sales is clear: tell the customer why they need the product or service, not all of the things it can do. And this is sound advice. After all, it was economist and Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt who famously said “customers want ¼-inch holes, not ¼-inch drills.”
A survey of common sales pitch advice might lead to an outline like:
- What is the problem you solve? How big is that problem?
- Why should I care about the problem you solve?
- Who are the people you serve?
- What success or results have you had?
This is a solid outline. As we discussed in our recent white paper on supporting the consultative sales process, thinking about the customer’s problems should be the beginning of any sales process. Outlines like this are also often accompanied with the advice to solve the biggest problem they can for customers. Selling the holes (instead of the drill) is just the beginning—why do clients really want that hole? What big, universal human need are you solving?
The danger with the advice to a) focus on the value and b) to solve the biggest possible problem is that it’s easy to take it too far. Sales teams can quickly find themselves with a generic, jargon-filled pitch that at best leaves customers unable to connect and at worst makes your sales pitch sound like flimsy promises that can make customers suspicious.
Imagine a sales pitch that goes like this:
Sales person: “The Holemaker 2000 can significantly reduce construction project time and increase investor ROI.”
Customer: “Really? And how does it do that?”
Sales person: “The Holemaker 2000 is a best-in-class, integrated system for all construction project holes.”
Customer: “Sure, but what does it do? And how? Drill, punch, bore, tiny man with a shovel?”
Sales person: “The Holemaker 2000 has a 100% success rate for hole creation and can solve all of your hole problems.”
It seems laughable, but all too many sales pitches go exactly this way. The sales person is so focused on elevating the problem and selling the value, they forget to actually say what the offering is and how it works. It seems like common sense, but far too many pitches leaves out this crucial information and it hinders sales, especially for complex products and services.
So, next time you’re putting together a sales pitch, add these two pieces of advice to your list.
Get specific about the problem
Solving the biggest problem possible seems attractive. After all, the Big Problems—things like saving money and time, or improving quality, adding ease or comfort, or eliminating barriers—are what really motivate people.
Imagine a commercial for dish soap. The dish soap always claims to save homemakers time, by freeing them from the burden of scrubbing dishes. The commercial will promise some sort of technological advancement that makes the soap capable of removing food and dirt directly from the plates with a mere swipe from that homemaker.
This is a pretty good pitch. It connects to a Big Problem—everyone wants more time and less housework. But the commercial also narrows in on a specific pain point—a sink full of dirty dishes. The single image of that sink filled with pots and pans causes the viewer’s back to begin to ache. By the time we get to the vision of a better future—a sparkling clean kitchen, the viewer has already begun to imagine what they will do with that time they’ve regained.
Without the specific pain point, all sales pitches become the same.
This is a familiar and simple product and it’s hard to imagine a dish soap commercial that would not specify the issue of stuck-on-food and a sink full of dishes. But when we look at more complex sales, especially B2B ones, we often see sales teams skip from the Big Problem right to the vision of a better future, without digging into the specific pain points. Without the specific pain point, all sales pitches become the same.
But with a specific pain point, a sales pitch not only distinguishes itself from other pitches, but you begin to demonstrate expertise. By just correctly identifying the problem and its origins, you immediately begin to create credibility that you might be the one to solve it.
Go back to that dish soap commercial and think about those dirty dishes. The narrator doesn’t just call them dirty dishes—he tells you about messy sauces, baked-on lasagna, and gooey cheese. For anyone who’s ever done dishes, you know that these troublemakers are your biggest pain points and you appreciate that the dish soap manufactured considered them (at least while making the commercial, if not the actual product).
Show how it works
Once you’ve named the problem with as much specificity and granularity as you can, it’s time to show exactly how your offering is doing to deliver on that vision. Too many sales and product teams are afraid to “give away” their secret sauce, reveal too much about how they do what they do. But in a B2B sale for a complex product or service, your customers likely already have quite a bit of domain knowledge and they need tangible and granular information about your product in order to correctly assess it.
In fact, giving detailed information about how your product or service really works not only builds your expertise—you clearly know how to solve the problem—but it also builds trust and confidence—you know you’re the only one who can deliver, so you’re not afraid to pull back the curtain.
The key to giving detail about how your offering works is to not let it become word salad filled with hard-to-understand technical jargon and confusing, esoteric descriptions. Instead, focus on explaining the process and features of your product or service in plain language that everyone can understand. The Center for Plain Language defines plain language as “communication that your audience or readers can understand the first time they hear or read it.” They go on to say, it is not simplifying or removing information—but instead focusing on improving comprehension. This is such an under-emphasized part of a sales presentation. Customers aren’t going to buy what they can’t understand.
The Center for Plain Language lists out seven criteria for plain language, all of which are key to great sales presentations and can help you make you offering clear.
- Logical organization
- The active voice
- Common, everyday words
- Short sentences
- “You” and other pronouns
- Lists and tables
- Easy-to-read design features
In addition to plain language, sales presentations that use visual explanations can speed the sales process and continue to build trust and expertise. Visual explanations can be used to show how your offering fits into business process, what systems your offering will connect with, or even how the employee or customer experience will be different in the future. You can learn more about visual explanations—or as we call them Foglifters®—and why they work here.
Too many sales teams are afraid to dive into the details. They want to keep the conversation at a high level, focusing on solving the Big Problem for customers and creating a vivid vision of the future. While those are important parts of the story, it’s not enough to make a sale. To make a sale, especially for a complex product or service in a B2B environment, you have to show expertise and establish trust by naming pain points with specificity and giving granular detail to how your solution works with plain language and engaging visuals.