To increase revenue, technology vendors should stop trying to sell their products.
We teach technology sales teams to seek out a problem the customer has. In some cases, the sales team may offer insight into a problem the customer doesn’t know they have. The sales team then shows how the use of their product will solve the problem.
We call this approach solution selling. It’s been around for almost three decades.
Solution selling is all about selling product. The customers know that’s the vendor’s focus. So, customers keep the vendor at arm’s length. They’re suspicious. They endure the vendor’s sales process, but they don’t like it. Nobody likes being ‘sold to’. But we all like to ‘buy’.
What Prompts Customers to Buy?
Buying cycles begin with a single event – a customer executive decides their business results need to improve. They may have missed a business target. They may have a higher target than the previous year. New government regulations may require a change. A competitor may have released a new offering. Regardless of the trigger, customers will only buy technology when a decision-maker decides that results need to improve.
The decision-maker wants the business to perform better. They seek a business outcome.
What Do Customers Buy?
Customers PAY for our products and services, but they BUY the chance to achieve a business outcome.
Our products and services are a means to an end. They help the customer achieve the business outcome. But our products are not enough by themselves. The customer must also undertake activities themselves to achieve the business outcome.
Both the customer and vendor know the product isn’t enough by itself. But, solution selling encourages the vendor to behave as if implementing their product will ensure success. Anyone with experience knows the fallacy of that idea. But vendors persist. It’s one of the reasons customers don’t trust vendors.
The customer has evaluated options and decided on a course of action. They’re going to buy a vendor’s technology product. They put a submission to the executive committee or the board for approval.
The submission does not seek approval to buy the vendor’s product. It seeks approval for a project. The project will include the purchase of the vendor’s product. But it also includes the other elements required to achieve the business outcome.
To achieve a business outcome, customers get approval for a PROJECT.
Vendors try to sell their products. Customers must gain approval for a project. They’re not the same thing. That creates a lack of alignment.
When vendors become aware of an opportunity, they should not discuss product. They should focus on a potential project. And be able to discuss all aspects of that project, not just the product elements.
This creates early alignment between the vendor and the customer.
When an opportunity arises, focus on the project not the product.
Is the Project Viable?
Vendors often waste time on opportunities that don’t result in projects. Customers make a ‘do nothing’ decision. They decide not to buy anything. Vendors often lose more deals to ‘do nothing’ decisions than to any competitors.
When an opportunity arises, the first question becomes whether it could result in an approved project. The vendor and customer should jointly conduct a high-level analysis. They should look at the potential benefits of the business outcome. And then consider the costs, time and difficulty of achieving that outcome. No discussion of product should take place. It’s not needed.
The high-level analysis may show the project would not prove worthwhile. It would never receive approval. Everyone should know this early. Vendors don’t want to spend time on an opportunity that will never lead to a sale.
The high-level analysis may show there’s a business case to move forward with the project. The vendor and customer then work together on what’s needed. They’ll focus first on how the business will change. This usually begins with a change in processes. The customer must envision how the business will operate to deliver the improved results.
Having planned the new business model, the discussion turns to other elements. This includes technology. It’s only at this point the vendor discusses their product. They show how their product will support the new business model. The smart vendor has avoided the temptation to discuss product early in the cycle.
The vendor may also help the customer think through changes in human resources and effects on the customer’s business partners.
Everything Needed for Approval
It’s in the vendor’s interest to ensure the customer gains project approval. And vendors will often have more experience than customers in putting together submissions for approval. So, the customer and vendor work together on the project approval submission.
From the first moment an opportunity arose, the vendor has worked with the customer on the potential project. They’ve been aligned. When it comes time to consider product, the customer’s ready to buy. They want to ensure the product will support the new business model.
Instead of the vendor ‘selling’ their product, the customer ‘buys’ the product. There’s been no need for a hard sell. The customer wants the product because it completes the project.
Increasing Vendor Revenue
Vendors will only sell their products with approved projects. And projects will only gain approval if they deliver a significant business outcome. Instead of looking for opportunities to sell product, vendors have a different task. There are two steps –
1. Identify projects which will deliver significant business outcomes
2. Help the customer gain approval for the projects
There’s a simple formula for vendors. The more projects approved, the greater the vendor’s revenue.
So, instead of proposing products, vendors should propose projects.
Outcome-based Customer Success (OCS)
Outcome-based customer success (OCS) provides a framework for engaging with customers based on outcomes. Both Sales teams and Customer Success teams can use the approach.