Diagnosing: The desire to understand

There’s a concept I the US military called the ground truth, it’s the idea that while the generals are sitting in offices far behind the front lines creating plans; the soldiers on the field of battle are the one who truly understand the terrain with all of its horrible threats challenges and difficult objectives.

The ground truth is the information gathered on location and it is often very different from what distant planners, experts and consultants believe it to be. The ground truth and its tactical realities, obstacles and unpredictability is always worse in person than it is on paper.

You need to discover the ground truth in order to really discover the pain points in a company, the kind of diagnosis we’re talking about here is digging down to the root causes of the companies pain to make your diagnosis. The deeper you dig, the more likely you are to uncover the truth about what your prospect really needs to do to get better results. Unless you get to the heart of the issue you clients face, you won’t be able to truly delivery value to them in your offering.

I am sure your familiar with what happens when you haven’t discovered the ground truth . Think about it you called on the decision maker, won her business and then struggled to execute because her description of the problem and the likely solution didn’t match the reality in her organization. Or have you ever started working with a client only to discover the real obstacle in the company was the people. An unwillingness to change or a political conflict within his company.

You’ve probable been trained to call as high up a company as possible, only moving down when necessary. That advice is misguided, while you might be selling to decision makers, you are serving the entire organization. Your diagnosis must include all the people your solution might be effecting, you may be presenting to the C-suite but I promise that you will be executing further down the organizational chart; where the ground truth lives.

Ignoring this truth will lead to serious problems, included unmet expectations and execution difficulties, because you lacked the genuine understanding of what Is necessary. The groups you find yourself working with will offer resistance because you haven’t spent the time meeting with them to deepen your understanding and to develop trust.

The power questions that doubles your understanding:

One simple question will help you get to the root cause of your customers problems, as well as gain a real understanding of what is necessary to gain better results.

That question is Why?

Let’s say they tell you they

“Need to change their system to increase productivity”

Great now you have the overlying issue , BUT not the root cause . So, you can then ask

Why do you need to increase your productivity?”

Because we are failing our customers, we have already lost one and have others who aren’t happy. They might respond.

By asking why just once, you have already moved into deeper implications, you understand that what you really need to do is to prevent any more of your customers customers from being unhappy and leaving.

Now ask why a second time, why haven’t you changed the equipment and processes before now?

They might answer; Because the finance department is worried about cost, and the operations team didn’t want to risk making production even worse.

With this second why you have learnt a lot about how the company operates and which stakeholders may need special handling. This companies management needs to be convinced to spend the necessary money and the operations team needs a plan to install new equipment without disrupting production.

Focussing on productivity alone, his original statement before asking why, will not solve this client’s problem despite what his people initially told you.

Getting beyond the presenting problem :

Understanding the ground truth allows you to prepare a superior plan that anticipates and deals with objections. Your solution might not be the best one but your ability to diagnose the real challenge that your client is facing can position to you win. Be creative in how you approach this.

How to improve your diagnosis:

Its not that hard to make an accurate diagnosis if you’re aware of and avoid the pitfalls, these include the following:
Don’t interpret your prospects experience through your own; salespeople are eager to promote their products, services and solutions because they are confident in their ability to make a difference, because experience tells them they can succeed. But leading with your experience doesn’t allow your prospects to go through the buying process, explain their current dissatisfaction, collaborate with you around their needs and explore options.

Leading with your experience can damage your ability to sell, this is not to say that your experience is unimportant, in fact, your experience is critical to an effective diagnosis. However, we too often view our prospects problems through our existing solution and what we have done for another client.

The point of a diagnosis isn’t to prove that you can push one of your existing solution on to your prospect, neither is it confirm which of your solutions you should sell your client. Rather, its to learn and discover. Remember this process is other oriented. The important thing is to listen and understand, you can apply your experience later, when you deepen your understanding.

2) Don’t ignore your dream clients’ vision

Its tempting to filter your client’s situations through your own vision of the proper solution. But you would be ignoring the clients’ vision. Although it is true that your clients do not always have the knowledge and expertise to know how their results can be improved, when you are open to understanding, you will often find that they have a vision of what they need. Whether they realize it or not. They assess ideas based on those visions. Your job is to find out how they see their business results improving, even if they are wrong about what’s necessary you must understand what they believe is necessary and work from there. Otherwise they will feel like you’re shoving something down their throats.

3) consider the constraints and obstacles

It’s vital that you uncover the constraints that hinder solutions whether they be financial, process, external or limitations. You must also uncover any obstacles that stand in the way of you developing, selling, implementing, and executing your solution. It’s very possible that your dream client’s current partner, your competitor, didn’t deal with these constraints and now they aren’t producing the desired results.

You do not want to be the next salesperson who failed because you didn’t discover the obstacles to change.

4) Ask the difficult questions

A sound diagnosis requires you to ask your customers the difficult questions, like the following

What’s the cost of not improving performance?

Why hasn’t the problem been solved before?

Who needs to be on the team to ensure our solutions will be improved?

Who might oppose this solution?

Failing to ask these questions puts your opportunities at risk, even if your solution is chosen, failure to ask these questions puts your execution at risk. Small salespeople ask weak questions, they do not want to bring up big uncomfortable questions.

The reason is first, because they don’t want to deal with the answer to those questions or issues and second, they fear that bringing up big issues will make the prospect uncomfortable and cost them the deal. The absolute best salespeople aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions. They get real, sometimes very real and they are trusted because they aren’t afraid to ask their customer the real questions.

5) Allow your dream client to teach you how to win:

Opportunities are created, won, or lost in the early stages of the sales process, particularly when you work with your prospects to understand their needs and develop ways to diagnose their solution. During this discovery stage you learn all about your prospective clients while they learn about you and they learn all about themselves. This process is critical to creating real value and trust.

Remain: curious and patient.

Ask and you will understand:

Once you demonstrate that you care and will go the extra mile to produce added value, your prospective clients will want you to succeed. Once they see that you want to learn, they’ll be willing to teach you what you need to know, As long as you ask the right questions.

So, ask all the questions that need answering. Don’t be scared, if the hard questions are asked in the right spirit, they will gladly answer them. Good questions create better understanding and more influence, the real action in the sales process and in the buying process is in the diagnosis. You don’t sell the solution without selling the diagnosis.

First move:

List of common challenges prospects have by identifying the presenting problem, the evidence that the problem exists, then write down next to each of these problems the root cause issue that creates that presenting problem.