JanetCurranJanet Curran of Huthwaite
The word ‘value’ is used constantly in business these days. We talk of our ‘value proposition’, ‘adding value’ for our customers, of products with ‘value-add’ and even ‘adding value-add’.
But this doesn’t, dare I say, devalue the concept behind it. Take a look at this YouTube clip, where Neil Rackham, known as the guru of SPIN® selling, talks about creating value in sales. He says that concentrating on why your product or service is better than that of your competitors holds little merit with customers. They can find this out for themselves and they are more concerned about the challenges of their own business – not yours.
What does rate highly is the ability to work with them to solve problems and offering solutions that can be tailored to do this and to go on to give competitive advantage. Huthwaite International researched the views of its own clients a couple of years ago and, yes, they wanted training providers who would customise courses to fit their individual needs. They also wanted this ability to be based on a knowledge and understanding of their organisation and their industry.
Other research backs this view; for example, the Forum Corporation’s work on selling to the C-suite. However, what the Forum and other influencers such as the book The Challenger Sale (by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson) says is that customers no longer expect to have to educate sellers about their problems and needs. Instead, they expect them to have the right knowledge and expertise to understand them already. What customers value is a seller who can present a compelling new idea or insight that they have not previously thought of and educate the customer about the problem. The new phrase is ‘teach the customer’ rather than ‘sell to the customer’.
So does this mean that we’ve moved on from the whole concept of SPIN® selling, with its focus on questions?
Not at all. Let’s just consider the following:
The danger of making assumptions: Depending on their knowledge of the customer, the seller may have made some assumptions about how this problem is going to affect the customer’s business. Just presenting information increases the likelihood of assumptions being made, so the intelligent seller should ask questions to check their assumptions out. Otherwise, they may just come across as pushy and arrogant, which the Forum research also indicates is not what customers want.
Looking closely at the premise of the compelling idea/customer insight they are still embedded in a SPIN® framework, which begins with a problem, considers the implications of that problem on a customer’s business and then turns it into a need. The only difference is that the Challenger model advocates a push style approach (with the seller giving information) as opposed to a pull style approach, (with the seller asking questions).
But is this really effective teaching? Think back to your days in school. Did the best teachers just stand at the front and preach? Or did they ask questions to encourage the class to think through the problem for themselves?
If you really want to challenge then asking questions is the most challenging behavioural strategy you can adopt. Anyone who has witnessed an exchange in a police interview room can attest to that. The difference is that the seller with knowledge of the business and the likely problem can focus the question on the potential impact of the problem and encourage the customer to think through the wider consequences for themselves.
At the end of the day customers still want sellers to listen to them. They still want to engage in dialogue and two-way conversation. They also want the conversations to be focused on them. And questions are what create a two-way dialogue between two people. Otherwise, it can become a case of two people just putting forward opposing or complementary views. To really create value with your customers equip yourself with knowledge and insight and then use questions to get the customer to think through all the implications and benefits of the idea so that they can see the value of it for themselves. Which is what SPIN® is all about.
Huthwaite sponsors the National Sales Awards, to enter this year’s awards or for more information visit www.nationalsalesawards.com