Solution selling: How to assess what prospects need

In the second part of this series, we look at the key to solution selling: assessing what prospects need. Active listening is essential to this, as is asking the right questions.

Taking this approach means putting yourself in the mindset of your customers. Getting to know what they need, including specific and broader pain points within their business, is crucial.

Invest time and effort in understanding prospects and customers. It means putting features second to the value a customer gets from your product or service. Here is how you get started with solution selling.

3 Steps to Start Solution Selling

#1: Create a series of questions

Questions are an integral part of understanding what a prospect or customer needs.

Smart salespeople, who adopt or are already using this approach, always have a mental folder of questions to ask. It helps to have them in a document too, just in case you can’t remember dozens of questions you might need.

When you either first contact a potential client, or an inbound lead comes in, start with generic questions. For example:

  • What’s holding the company (or division) back from growth?
  • What are causing some of your biggest headaches?
  • What does your boss/CEO obsess about?
  • What challenges has Covid-19 caused? (It won’t be around forever, but this is a challenge the world will be dealing with for some time, so it’s worth asking)
  • What issues are recently discussed across the company?

As the conversation gets more in-depth, draw upon the conversation to ask follow-up questions.

At the same time, you need to ask questions about budgets, decision makers, and other specifics that will help identify whether they’re a viable customer. Not only that, but every sector has specific cycles and challenges, which also might influence what you can ask prospects.

#2: Identify pain points - especially when Qualifying

At the qualifying stage, the focus is on assessing whether a prospect is a viable client. Hence the questions, and many others you could ask, outlined above.

Most sales leads, depending on the size of the company and value of deals, go through two stages:

  • Becoming Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL); if they are coming inbound. Whereas outbound leads have already been identified as being sales qualified.
  • Sales Qualified Leads (SQL): these are leads one of the sales teams have assessed are viable, which is the most important stage of the process.

Identifying pain points is an essential part of the qualification process.

Qualifying leads, and assessing whether they’re viable involve a similar formula for most companies:

Do they appear serious + Do they need our solution + Do they have a budget?

Other crucial variables are:

Can the person I am talking to make a decision on this?

Are they ready to go ahead in a reasonable amount of time?

Let’s review that for clarity (so when you enter this into a CRM, you can be confident you’ve covered the essential basics):

  • Do they need what we are selling?
  • Do they have a budget?
  • Can the buyer make a decision (or can I help them influence a decision maker)?
  • How soon do they want to go ahead?

#3: Put customer-based value first

One of the main advantages of solution selling is that it puts customer-value first. It stops you, the salesperson, or the buyer, focusing on price or features.

When it comes to why buyers go ahead with suppliers, price and features are a part of it. But they should never be the only reason someone goes ahead with a purchase. If that is the case, then there’s always a risk a customer will go elsewhere. Someone else might offer a similar product/service cheaper, or with bigger and bolder features.

Here are a few ways you can do this (either asking current customers, or using these to present your solution to new prospects):

  • Ask how this makes their work easier?
  • What tasks are eliminated, how much time and/or money is saved?
  • Assuming savings are made, ask what can be done with the extra time and money?
  • If your solution contributes to a company’s growth, assess the ROI impact?
  • Ask what kind of ROI clients typically achieve within 6 months?
  • Why clients are happy with your service, why they stay long-term?

Following on from this, here is what the solution selling process looks like in practice.

Solution selling in practice (stages)

  • Prospects are either looking for a solution, or you’ve reached out as a viable supplier;
  • Qualify the lead. Assess the decision making process and team within the prospect company;
  • Discovery: Ask smart questions and practice active listening to diagnose what they need;
  • Demo, pitch, and/or proposal. Present your solution, based on the prospects answers to your questions during the qualification or discovery stage (depending on the number of stages within your sales cycle);
  • Add value. Demonstrate ROI, either through case studies, testimonials, or using data;
  • Close. Aim to start working together, closing the deal.

In the next part of this series, we look at how salespeople create amazing presentations that get results. This is how you are either prepared for sales demos, in which case are using presentations as part of the qualifying process, or use them when contacting a prospect after an online sales demo.

Next, in this series of articles, you can find out how to:

3. Create amazing presentations that get results;

4. Overcome objections, sell strategically and follow-up effectively (coming soon)

You can also go back to review: What solution selling is, and when should you use it?

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