‘Solutions’ selling is on the up, and with it increased levels of customer objection to your sales pitch. So how do you effectively manage that? Tony Hodgson, director of PODi for Europe, provides tactical advice.
“Customers are not looking for suppliers, they’re looking for solutions”. This was a key message from the Fespa Global Summit 2014 in Munich earlier this year and one many printers have taken on board. But instead of customers saying: “Wow, you have a great solution that’s just right for us”, they just tell you about the problems that they can see in your suggested solution and why it won’t work for them. You have encountered the Great Wall of Objection. So how do you get over that?
PODi, which has been helping digital printers learn how to effectively sell ‘solutions’ since 2006 through its online Strategic Solutions Sales training programme, has now coupled its interactive video platform, Zenarate, with one-to-one sales coaching from PODi peers and experts (see www.podi.eu/zenarate). Here are some of its key lessons.
1. Be accepting
When selling ‘solutions’, you are more likely, not less, to encounter objections than when just selling print as a price-sensitive commodity. After all, if the only thing that differentiates you from the competition is your price, then the only objection can be “You’re too expensive!”. The solution to that is simple - you just lower the price. And soon go bust. So what’s the answer? Firstly, accept that customers will have objections. Indeed, welcome them. Actually, you should positively invite them, because handling objections effectively is key to successfully selling solutions.
2. Have a process
Fespa noted from this year’s Global Summit that: “The common denominator to the success stories was the focus on added value - that is, providing a comprehensive value proposition which goes far beyond print.”
Effectively selling any B2B product or service involves a structured process, but selling added value solutions that go beyond print involves some essential extra stages. For example, gaining a clear understanding of the customer’s business needs, objectives and strategy is a vital first step. As the sales conversation progresses, the customer will inevitably raise questions, concerns and doubts about your solution. They will want to know whether it really will add value, how you will achieve that and whether you can deliver it. By inviting them to voice their concerns it gives you the opportunity to explain and reassure them convincingly. Handling their objections is an integral and useful stage in the sales process. And at that point you need to ACT - acknowledge, clarify, tell.
The best place to start when you hear an objection to your solution is to be grateful and say “thank you”. Acknowledge that they have a valid point that you want to examine fully. Remember that by objecting they are engaging with you because they care about getting the right solution for their needs. Listen carefully to what they say and show that you take it seriously by writing it down. Avoid being defensive or seeking to justify that you are right. But neither should you simply take their objection at face value. What they say may not be the real underlying reason why they are objecting. Regard each objection you hear as the start of a conversation which will enable you to discover more about their business situation or need and be able to adapt your solution to it.
The next step is to clarify exactly what their objections are. This is critical and requires active listening on your part. Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a blunt “yes” or “no”. The worst thing you can do in handling objections is to come back with a response that doesn’t actually address the concern that the customer raised. You may have the perfect solution for their requirement but the customer will not want to hear it if they think you are not listening to them. When you think you have understood the issue, play it back to them: “If I’m understanding you correctly, this is your concern...”. If not, you can seek further clarification. But if they agree, then you can move forward with your response.
Now you have a chance to tell your story in a way that will resonate with your customer. As you do so, keep your understanding of their objections at the front of your mind. Having listened, probed and clarified their objections you should have heard enough to be able to describe what could happen without your solution. Empathise with their pain. If you believe that your solution will add value to their business then telling your story in the right way will encourage them to see how it does that. You need to leave them feeling uncomfortable with the status quo or other alternatives but reassured that what you are offering will work and improve the situation. Refer to other customer situations, success stories and case studies to reinforce this.
Now you need to make sure they understand the relevance of what you have explained. Ask if it makes sense and that they see the value of it. If you have done the first three steps effectively, the last should feel like a role reversal. By asking the customer what they think you should discover how well they have understood your solution, whether they acknowledge the value that it could have for their business, and whether they need any further clarification. If they still have objections then either you’ve got more work to do to persuade them, or maybe your solution isn’t right for them after all. Even if they appear to have ‘bought-in’ don’t assume so. Your last question should be, “Are there any other reasons that could make you hesitant about our solution?”
Here are a couple of brief examples of how to respond to some familiar objections:
7. “I already have a solution”
“I’m sorry, but we already have a supplier who fulfils all our needs”. This objection usually masks an underlying concern that changing supplier can be disruptive and will not yield any discernable benefit. Acknowledge that there is no point changing anything unless there’s a significant gain to be made. Your aim is to see if there are any specific areas where your solution or a part of it could make a difference. Ask the customer if they will share with you what needs they had last year. Then ask if they are likely to change this year and how. Listen out for opportunities which may be new for their existing supplier or where you are confident your solution has a benefit that they may not have thought of before. Offer a partial solution that works within their existing strategy and supply chain but adds distinct value. Reassure them with customer stories of how you have enhanced existing solutions and partnered with incumbent suppliers to achieve that.
8. “I don’t have the budget” Ask the customer if they will share with you how they spend their existing budget to achieve their objectives. Try to identify the specific elements which your service or solution could improve. Clarify if the reason they don’t want to engage you is because their budget is already committed. Focus on areas where you believe you could make a significant difference by asking what if they could save some money on those to spend elsewhere or gain more for the same cost. Give examples of how you have helped other customers increase their return on investment with your solution.
9. Learn and practice
Learning to effectively sell solutions that add value with digital printing takes practice. PODi members can take advantage of a new programme that couples PODi’s cloud-based interactive video platform, Zenarate, with one-to-one sales coaching from PODi peers and experts. It helps sales people use and practice techniques to articulate the value of your solutions, turn customer objections to your advantage and win more profitable added-value sales.