Go Negative or Go Nowhere

by Britton Manasco | Jul 10, 2011 | Sales Messaging

Sales people tend to be inveterate optimists. They prefer to paint visions of a bright, shining, speculative future -- where everyone's happy and the results are just fabulous

Unfortunately, this kind of approach never really gets the buyer in the gut. It tends to get lost in all the rest of the syrupy, feel good noise they hear every day -- market-blather that fails to speak to their deepest concerns and problems.  No Software  

Still other sales people overwhelm prospects with a blizzard of techno-talk. They fail to speak in a language that is real and accessible to the many, disparate players (technical, operational, executive) that must participate in a high-value, highly complex decision. 

From a positioning, messaging and communication perspective, the challenge ahead lies in engaging your prospective (and existing) clients on the level of "clear and present" problems. 

The heart surgeon doesn't try to tell an unexamined patient how great everything will be after a heart operation. First, he or she asks a lot of unsettling questions regarding the patient's symptoms and then, conducts a thorough examination. Only after that process is complete (and the state of the condition is confirmed), does the surgeon start discussing the operation itself. Only then is a prognosis truly discussed. 

So it goes with successful approaches to the high impact sale. At the outset of a business relationship, it may feel awkward to raise unsettling, no-nonsense questions that get at the "symptoms" of a possible problem. It sounds so "negative," after all.

And it is. But this is the open secret of engaging and credible selling. By addressing the negative symptoms that a customer is experiencing at the moment, you build the credibility to advance the conversation and determine if the symptoms have problematic causes and undesirable consequences. It is the credible identification of these consequences that will drive the decision to change. 

When it first went to market more than a decade ago, SalesForce.com asked its prospects if they were tired of dealing with software (at least, in its conventional manifestation). Were they fearful of long, drawn out implementation efforts? Were they concerned about paying out big money upfront for an uncertain outcome? 

Turns out, these "negative" symptoms of the prospect's present condition often could be addressed with a service-based solution (where the software itself was hidden from view). Marc Benioff sure got that right. 

Counterintuitive though it may seem, sales people initially must address their prospective clients in the unpleasant present (not the positive and speculative future) if they intend to establish an honest and compelling dialogue. But you don't need to (and shouldn't) manipulate with "fear, uncertainty and doubt," as some sales gurus suggest. The pain and problems that your solution can address either exist or they don't. And you won't know unless (and until) you ask.