Not just solutions, insight

lossless-page1-671px-Two_people_talking_tiffOn several occasions, I’ve emphasized how all of us in the water systems industry are salespeople in one form or another. And as a professional contractor, you are out there week after week selling our industry’s products, services, and expertise. The customer may be a homeowner, a business owner, a farmer, or a municipality. So given the importance of selling in our industry, whenever I see a business article about what makes a successful salesperson, it always gets my interest. In a post last year (Know your stuff), I highlighted a research study done by two PhDs that I thought stated the obvious. They identified eight different sales personalities and concluded the most successful type was what they categorized as “the expert”

I recently ran across a similar study with somewhat different conclusions. In a Harvard Business Review article entitled “The End of Solution Selling”, the authors identify and evaluate not eight, but five sales personality types. There are:

  1. Relationship builders, who take the approach of always being the good guy and focusing on exactly what the customer says he or she wants.
  2. Problem solvers: These sales types dive into a customer’s problems and work diligently to solve those problems.
  3. Hard workers treat sales as a numbers game with a mentality of “if I make more sales calls than anyone else, I will be the most successful”.
  4. A fourth type is the Lone Wolf. As the name implies, these salespeople are very independent and use everything at their disposal, sometimes at the expense of their employer’s policies and procedures.

What was interesting was the fifth type. In their study of 6,000 salespeople, the authors identified this type of sales personality as by far the most successful in today’s business environment. They call this type the Challenger. Challengers are debaters. They have a specific view of what their customer needs are beyond what the customer tells them. They actively share that view with their customer. They don’t simply acquiesce to what the customer is telling them, but instead take the approach of “I’m here to provide you insight and guidance on the issues and problems you don’t know you have”.

The Challenger approach leads to “insight selling” and the big idea of the article is that “solution selling” focuses on the problems that customers tell you they have, whereas “insight selling” focuses on problems customers don’t know they have. It’s important to note that Challengers don’t cross that line of becoming obnoxious. But they are assertive in their opinions of what they believe the customer truly needs.

So, what does any of this have to do with water systems? Even though I’m always dubious of academic articles on the topic of selling, I think the authors are actually confirming what many of us already know. When it comes to water systems, most end-users have no idea what problems they really need solved. Ask a homeowner during a typical service call what their problems are and they will tell you, “I’m out of water, fix it!” The solution selling approach would be to simply get them back in water. However, the Challenger says, “Okay, I will do that, but here’s why you are out of water and here’s what we are going to do to improve your water system.” Maybe the contractor then explains why they need a larger pump, constant pressure, or dry well protection. Once again, the approach is to use expertise and experience to offer insight and guidance.

At the end of the day, you obviously can’t force something on a customer. But you can take control and offer a firm opinion on what you know your customer needs, not just what they are telling you they need. The result will probably be a better, more reliable system for your customer and more sales for you.

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