“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 peaked at $4.50 a gallon, I had an experience that underscored several sales principles dealing with product 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.

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

Scores of cars were slowly entering and leaving the lot through multiple entrance and exit points. The service street also had a line of cars backed up for 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 the cars slowly snaking through the lot 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 line of cars ground to a halt as the guy closest to me in a blue Jeep, stopped, let me out, and promptly pulled into the spot.

“Parking Lot Bob” offered to buy my spot for $20. He could have been successful in securing my spot and saved himself some gasoline if he extended himself a little bit. All he had to do was design his offer to solve some of my problems and not just his.

Reading The Sales Environment

When we approach our prospects with our solution, we’re not always paying attention to the right target. Most often, we direct attention to the capabilities of our product, the reputation of our company, or our own awesomeness.  Sometimes, we’ll fall to the lowest-common-denominator mindset, thinking money and cost are the ultimate deciding factors. Consequently, we focus our attention on money and cost instead of the the prospect’s challenge or the solution’s impact on 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 those changes will have a secondary impact on the environment and they might adversely affect the outcome you want.  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 they have the power to say “no” all day long. In our case, they were necessary personnel in integrating our system into their environment and maintaining the system long after the client signed the contract. We needed them 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 your solution impacts the rest of the company after they implement it.  If implementing your solution is going to make life easier for your prospect’s team but create more work for another group in the company, you 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 describing 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 after they implement your solution.  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.  Remember, everyone listens to the same radio station, WII-FMWhat's In It For Me. Your prospect or client is constantly thinking about their problems. They aren’t thinking about your solution. Help them out here by doing some of the heavy thinking for them.

  5. Take the risk out of the transaction.

    We often overlook this obvious factor. Remember, upper management rewards perceptive business people for taking strategic risks.  They also penalized them for backing obviously flawed deals.  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 expect your prospect to start shopping for another vendor. Do whatever you can to mitigate unnecessary risk that your prospect might assume. If they find the risk tolerable, they will feel less resistance to buy.

Designing The Sales Experience For Your Clients

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: Check it out. I can give you ride to where your car is parked and that’ll 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.  That way, you get to rest your legs and 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. Show 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.