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I heard a salesperson say something fascinating (and disturbing) today. He said, “And it’s really important for us to learn about our clients needs when we have our new client kick off meeting.What? When we have the kick off meeting?You’re probably wondering how the salesperson wins new business. He wins new business through an RFP process executed and operated by brokers. He is universally behind the sales process. In this process, everything the buyer wants is detailed in a request for proposal. The sales organization generally has to agree to everything in the request proposal as a condition of being allowed to compete (or, more accurately, provide pricing). But if all the needs are captured in a request for proposal why wouldn’t those needs be known before a kick off meeting? And the answer is simple: the kick off meeting is where the buyer and seller interact for real for the first time; it’s where the discover their real needs.In FrontSelling from behind the process is terrible. It’s terrible for sales organizations. And it’s terrible for organizations that are buying. Without truly understanding the client’s needs, the sales organization is set up to fail. They haven’t done the work that would allow them to succeed, and they’re still behind even after having won. In fact, they may not have been the right choice to begin with. They may just have been the best show horse the boardroom.This salesperson’s organization churns clients. They lose accounts through the deep dissatisfaction that usually starts about six months into their contract. The reason they have a systemic problem with churn is because they’ve adopted a process that doesn’t allow them to know their customer and their real need, and that same process doesn’t allow the customer to know there suppliers real solution or capabilities.If you’re just learning about your clients needs at kick off, you’re both way behind. In human relationships and complex business dealings, slow is fast and fast and slow.QuestionsHow much time do you spend really understanding your dream client’s needs?Mistakes are made, but whose fault is it if you are surprised at your dream client’s difficult demands after having won?How do you get in front of the sales process when your buyer’s process is at arm’s length?
If you were to walk in the back door of your dream client’s account and speak to one of the contacts who cares about what you do, would your competitor have reason to be concerned? Should they fear your very presence inside the building as an existential threat? Or, would they feel confident that there is no way you could create an opportunity to displace them?This might sound like a question about how well your competitor has their client locked up, but it isn’t. It’s a question about whether your approach allows you to create an opportunity by helping the client discover something about themselves and opening up a gap. Your company’s first 8 slides are not going to compel your dream client to change. Nor is it likely that a traditional discovery process is going to do enough to overcome the status quo.The dangerous type of salesperson is strategic, meaning they know how to initiate conversations about strategic outcomes, things that matter, systemic issues that are difficult to resolve. You pose no threat if the best you can do is share features and benefits. There is no danger in a salesperson who provides no more danger than a catalogue that comes in the mail.The dangerous salesperson has the ability to find and engage the people who are necessary to change and bring them into the process. They can enter the organization at the highest level, the lowest level, or anywhere between and wire the building. You are no danger if you can’t move vertically and horizontally within the four walls of your dream client’s company.When it comes to the intangibles, the dangerous type of salesperson has them in spades. They have the ability to develop relationships, to look and sound like a peer, and to create a preference to work with them because of the value they create (which is something different than the value their company or their product creates). Without the intangibles, there are salespeople who can walk into your dream client’s building and leave without anything changing inside their four walls.What makes one dangerous is their ability to create a situation where a competitive displacement is possible—or likely.