Part III: A Hospital-Solutions Example
In this example, we tackle two customer situations that
often pose difficult challenges to sales people chartered with selling True
Solutions early in a company's transformation to a Customer-Intimacy Business
- Breaking out of the "Can't start because we haven't done it before" cycle. This is when sales people can't sell your newer, broader solutions because the company doesn't yet have a track record of experience and success.
- Addressing Price questions raised in initial meetings and elsewhere early in the proactive sales cycle, before you know enough to give a good answer and before you have established enough credibility to justify whether or not spending that kind of money is a good idea.
Situation #1: The Early Reference Requests
A healthcare solutions company is positioning a new orthopedics patient-care model in with a prospective executive buyer - which in this case is the COO of a hospital system. The buying organization is in the Whether to Act Phase. The Entry Project would create a future-state vision and a high-level business case, and would tee up different approaches for achieving the future state vision (i.e., prepare them to enter the How to Act Phase). In going through the purchase approval process, the COO has asked some questions about the experience of other hospitals. The buying executive passes the questions along to the sales person via email and asks for an appropriate reply. The sales person is stressed because this is a leading edge solution and there really aren't examples where his company - or for that matter other hospitals - have implemented an entire solution before. They've done all the pieces, but never an end-to-end implementation.
How should the sales person respond?
First, shift this dialogue to a
"live" conversation rather than emails. Use the phone to ask some clarifying
questions rather than dive into answers, even if the answers are unknown. The
goal is to use clarifying questions to understand the COO's real concerns and educate him/her
along the way. Ultimately, this process is used to instill confidence.
Second, and this is very important, don't answer the questions as if the buyer is vetting the people or your company. Answer them as if they are seeking to further understand how this solution might actually work and be applied to their unique situation. So, don't use phrases like "we never have..." Instead, use phrases like "so-and-so has done this..." Even if they're not your past clients, you've studied the market so you can speak knowledgeably. Remember, the customer is in the "Whether-to-Act" phase, and answers should address this decision.
Early in the discussion, the sales
person could also offer to help introduce the COO/Executive Buying Team to
others they could learn from - but the sales person must recognize that this is
hard to actually arrange because references and contacts are few. Therefore, if such contacts are offered, the
sales person should then use the process of talking through the
concerns/questions in such a way as to leave the client thinking that
ultimately making those contacts is an unnecessary step.
During the discussion, here are some other tactics that could be used by the sales person to redirect the inquiry and turn it into an advantage, possibly even building greater support for the initial work effort:
- Suggest benchmarking and case study development as part of implementation work, i.e., you'll do the research for them (and build into the cost/price of future work).
- Remind the customer that this is a leading edge topic, so the initiative needs to be dissected into pieces and lessons drawn that are specific to each piece. Some pieces have more track record than others. Some will be unique to them.
- Pull from personal experience as much as possible when talking. "When we implemented a big change program through the doctors at Gotham City Health, we..." and "When the Metropolis Hospital System started their quality initiative, they had some rogue doctors and they did..." The individual experiences may be narrow, but the collective set of experience implies an overall capability and instills confidence in the buyer.
- Cite freely other companies of which you have knowledge, even if you haven't done the work. It's your knowledge a client is buying, and that knowledge is born of both personal experience and studying the market.
- Show that the risks are being managed at each juncture: every major step and decision in the process is only made after the sufficient information, and trust, have been developed to enable it. This is how True Solutions are designed.
Bottom line, the sales person should be addressing the COO/Buying Executive's underlying concerns. But it's impossible to be able to address all of them because there are circumstances that are unique to the buyer. So, as a supplier, you're not on the hook to know everything and have done everything. Rather, as their expert, you will bring them all they need to know.