How well do you really know your clients and prospects?

If I asked you, for your top 20 prospects, to list (in order of priority) the top three issues or challenges they face, could you do it?  What about your top 20 current clients?  If you don’t know this information, your client list is staggeringly vulnerable to being poached, and you are not in the best position to win your top prospects.

The overwhelming majority of people will not take action to purchase something unless it directly addresses one of the top three issues or obstacles they face, no matter how good the offer in front of them. Translated into English, what that means is that you can have the best product, at the best price, with the best warranty, and an urgent reason for me to purchase it, but if the issue/problem solved by your product is not on MY list of top three urgent issues, I am NOT likely to take action and buy it. You can call me over and over again, take me to lunch, get more referrals, up the benefits, but odds are you’ll be wasting your time. That is, until the issue solved by your product moves into my top three priorities.  If I’m the prospect, it has to be urgent to me.

Here’s an example.

You’ve been calling on Bob Smith at ABC company for six months. You went to college with his brother, met most of his family, and named your first born child after his dad, but for some reason, he is not excited about your proposal to reduce his bandwidth cost by 25% and increase his efficiency through your new hosting product. He does not turn you town flat, but instead, week after week, he tells you he is “thinking about it” or “reviewing it with his boss”. What is going on? The product makes sense for him. Why won’t he just buy.

Take him out to lunch and finally do something you should have done on the first meeting. Ask him about his business, challenges, issues, plans. You focus on him, NOT on selling your product. This leads you to discover what his top 5 issues are.

  1. He’s in the middle of an Audit from the IRS
  2. He’s short staffed by 2 Project Managers
  3. He’s negotiating for a new lease on his current office space
  4. Broken Copier in the office
  5. Needs to reduce Bandwidth costs.

The good news is your issue is on his list, but it is not high enough on his list, which is why your proposal has not been accepted or negotiated on. Now you know. This is why the top sales people in the world ask questions before they present anything.  Some of these may look out of order to you. The broken copier looks like no big deal, but to Bob, with 14 people in his office complaining about it daily, it is a big deal.  More importantly, in his mind, it is a slightly bigger deal than reducing the bandwidth costs.  Perception equals reality, and therefore his perception dictates his buying reality, which is also happens to be your selling reality.

There is opportunity in helping solve issues above you on his list, to create rapport and trust, and to move your issue up. In this case, referring him a good recruiter, or even better, some good candidates for the open positions, would knock off issue #2 and move you up. Then referring him someone you know in the copier business to fix or sell him a new one, would knock off another one and get your issue in the top three. He is still being audited, so your issue is not #1, but if you are in the top three, you have a way better chance of getting motion on your proposal.

All too often, sales people will attempt to force ourselves as a priority, which is both arrogant and annoying to our prospective customers.  I’d rather assist my prospects through referrals in eliminating the issues with higher priority. If you refer people who take care of customers, you’ll even get some credit for solving the issue, which builds rapport and trust, and also, giving referrals usually leads to getting referrals. It’s a win-win-win situation!

You need to be doing the basic research of what your prospect’s priority list looks like.  That is a good use for those research calls and rapport building meetings.  Your current customers are even more important.  If you are not willing to figure out their priority list, your competitors will be more than happy to use that to get in the door and steal the business.

If you discover you are way down the list with a prospect, that is a good indicator that there is a low likelihood of a buying decision, and you need to focus on other prospects, those with an issue you can solve in their top 3.  Just keep in touch, because just like your personal priority list changes often, so does the list of any prospect.  Continue to do prospecting and research calls across the board, but focus your proposals and your closing attempts on the customers motivated to act!  The more you know their list, the more your are a trusted advisor, instead of a pesky sales person continually following up on a proposal.