“We predict the future. And the best way to predict it, is to invent it.” -Well Manicured Man, The X-Files

During the summer of 2008 when gasoline prices had peaked out at about $4.50 a gallon, I had an experience that underscored several sales topics dealing with product and service positioning.

It was a Saturday morning and I was in a bookstore, researching a sales topic.  When I emerged a few hours later, I saw the parking lot had become packed as if it were the night before Christmas.

While I was in the store, a book-signing event had started for an popular local author..

There were scores of cars slowly entering and leaving through multiple entrance and exit points, and winding their way through the parking lot lanes like one of those old fashioned ant farms. The service street also had a line of cars backed up for what looked like a half a mile making traffic control useless.

Remember, these cars were idling most of the time, burning up that precious $4 gasoline and going nowhere fast.

While I was moving between the two cars idling in line, a guy in a Lexus said to me, “Hey, $20 for your parking space!”

I looked at all of the cars slowly snaking through the lot looking for a space and replied to him, “Hey, you can have it for free… if you can get to it.”

I made my way through two rows of parked cars to my vehicle.  And when I got to my car and opened the door, the slow moving line of cars ground to a halt as a guy closest to me in a blue Jeep, stopped, let me out, and promptly pulled into the spot.

“Parking Lot Bob” who offered me $20 could have been successful in securing my parking space and saving himself some gasoline. All he had to do was employ a little creative thinking and do a little more work designing his offer to solve some of my possible problems and not just his.

Reading The Sales Environment

When we approach our prospects with a solution, our attention is not always focused on the right target. We may be focused on the capabilities of our product, the reputation of our company, or the awesomeness of ourselves.  Sometimes, we’ll fall to the lowest common denominator mindset, thinking money and cost are the ultimate deciding factors. Consequently, money and cost become the focus our attention instead of the actual challenge the prospect is trying to solve or the number of ways our solution will impact their environment.

To design a comprehensive solution, we need to show our prospects that our solution will solve their particular challenge as well as how it will impact their overall environment. This includes everything from solution implementation to post sales support.

When I studied NLP, we referred to this exercise as performing an ecology check.  In biology, ecology is defined as the study how organisms interact with each other and their physical environment.  You want to take a similar mindset when designing your prospect’s sales experience. When your prospect introduces your solution to address their problem, it will alter their environment in some way.  Some of that change will involve a secondary impact and it might have an adverse effect on what you are trying to accomplish.  Your task is to determine not just the changes your solution will have, but to take stock of the secondary effects it will have on their environment. Then work like crazy to mitigate any detrimental secondary effects.

Example of Ecology Check in Technical Sales

One of the challenges we faced when I worked with enterprise storage systems was getting everyone’s buy in on the prospect’s side of the transaction.  The salesperson was good at working the top-level executives, but most of the time, what those top level executives wanted did not correlate with the immediate needs and desires of the system administrators or the end users.

System administrators rarely have the power to say “yes” but have they have the power to say “no” all day long. In our case, they were instrumental in integrating our system into their environment and maintaining the system long after the contract was signed. They were needed to ensuring the long term success of the solution.

The way we designed around this ecological challenge was to make the system administrator a part of the solution. We determined how implementing this equipment was going to impact their lives, reviewed their routines, worked on steps to mitigate any of the effects that were going to disrupt their routine, and made them a part of the integration process by letting them help in the setup.

Designing The Prospect’s Sales Experience To Reach Agreement

When you are approaching your prospect with a possible solution to their challenges, design the sales experience with these points in mind:

  1. Ask your client or prospect what they want. Get them to identify the target or desired outcome.
  2. Ask questions about the ecology.  Ask them who else is involved in the decision making process, who else will be impacted by the solution, who else has a stake in the completed project, and really listen to their responses.  You also want to know how the rest of the company will be impacted when your solution is implemented.  If implementing your solution is going to make life easier for your prospect’s team but create more work for another section of the company, you would want to know that and find ways to mitigate that impact.
  3. Provide a direct application of your solution to their problem. When you are providing your solution to your prospect, go beyond relaying the facts and features of your product or service to them.  Go beyond the benefits that they will receive when the solution is implemented.  Provide them with a direct application and show them exactly how they can leverage your solution immediately.  By providing usage examples immediately, you show them how they can start appreciating the benefits your product or service can provide right now. Prime the pump with one or two immediate usage examples and you’ll be closer to closing the deal.
  4. Help your prospect think of how to use your product. Remember that you want to help guide the prospect’s attention.  You want to direct it towards a solution that your product or service can provide.  So provide extra value by showing them how your product or service will fit into their environment and solve their challenges.  Most likely, your prospect won’t do this on their own if there’s too much work involved.  And if they do, there is no guarantee that they will arrive at your solution using your product or service.  Their attention is focused on their problem, not your solution. Help them out here by doing some of the heavy thinking for them.
  5. Take the risk out of the transaction.  This one is obvious and often overlooked.  Perceptive business people are rewarded for taking calculated, strategic risks.  They are also penalized for losing money.  If your solution can’t stand on it’s own merit, looks like it won’t show a return, or is going to cost your prospect some credibility, then you can expect your prospect to back out of the deal or start shopping for another vendor. Do whatever you can to mitigate unnecessary risk that your prospect might assume. If it’s tolerable on their end, the resistance to buy is reduced.

So how would “Parking Lot Bob” have approached this if he had been a little more creative?  Here is one possible scenario:

Bob: “Hey Bubba, are you ok?” (At the time, I had a little limp in my walk.  It was very easy to notice and would have been easy to leverage).

Me: yeah, I’m fine.

Bob: Ok Just noticed that you were moving with a small limp.  Hey, are you parked in this lot?

Me: Yeah.

Bob: I don’t want to cause you too much trouble, but I’m hoping you can help me out.  I’m looking for a space in this lot and they are in short supply. If you are open to the idea, I’d like to buy your spot.  Where are you parked anyway?

Me: Right over there.

Bob: OK.  Here’s what I can do. I can give you ride over to where your car is parked and that will give you a chance to take a load off your legs.  When we arrive to where you parked your car, I can stop just before the spot and give you an opportunity to back out.  You get to rest your legs, you don’t have to worry about the hassles of other drivers stopping and waving you out, and I’ll give you $20 for your trouble. That sound fair to you?

Me: Make it $30 and you got yourself a deal.

Hey, I had to recover the cost of my brand new book!

Bottom line, move beyond simply regurgitating facts, features, and benefits. Design a sales experience that incorporates how your solution will resolve your prospect’s challenge, how it will impact their business ecology, and show them specifically how to use it in their environment. They will reward your efforts with the order.