Most sales advice suggests that to sell products and services as solutions to needs you must uncover your prospect’s pain.
The reasons are simple:
- If the prospect communicates his business afflictions to you, then it is likely that he will want them to go away if it’s possible, and if it makes sense to invest the time, money, and brainpower to get rid of them.
- Each affliction you uncover gives you the chance to explore it fully to discover its true business impact.
- Uncovering and discussing one affliction can lead to other afflictions, which the prospect may not have been thinking about in the first place.
Uncovering your prospect’s afflictions is a crucial step in the business development process.
But focusing only on afflictions can do you a disservice because problems and pain are only half the story.
The Second Half of the Story: Aspirations
If you focus only on the negative, you miss half your chance to uncover opportunities.
When customers buy, they are typically thinking as much about Aspirations (the future they are seeking) as they are about Afflictions (problems they’d like to fix).
If you think about asking questions exclusively in the negative, you’ll tend to probe for needs that way. You’ll ask questions to the effect of (while hopefully not exactly as written):
- “What’s not working as well as it should?”
- “What keeps you up at night?”
- “Where is the pain?”
Think of Aspirations as much as Afflictions, and you’ll remember to ask future-seeking as well as problem-solving questions—questions with themes like:
- “Where do you want to go?”
- “What are the possibilities?”
- “What are your goals?”
If you ask questions that look to the future, you will find that—instead of just bringing some Advil for the pain—you will be able to paint the most compelling, impactful, and comprehensive vision of a new and better reality for your clients.
Focusing on Aspirations in Practice: A Case Study in Future-Seeking
Assume for a moment that you’re a partner at a diversified accounting, financial, and business advisory firm. You have a meeting scheduled with the owner of a medium-size business because he is not happy with the tax accounting services he is receiving from his current CPA firm.
Through a series of questions, you have uncovered several problems this business owner has with his current accounting firm, including missed deadlines, impersonal service, and a suspicion that the firm isn’t up-to-date on the latest tax regulations. You know you can help. You continue the conversation, proposing next steps on how to move forward. You feel confident in how you managed the conversation and feel that a new client will be in your future.
As you are saying good-bye he says, ‘‘I’m meeting my lawyer for lunch. You two don’t know each other. Want to join us?’’ Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to further the relationship (and because he eats at expensive French restaurants), you are happy to oblige.
You get to lunch, exchange pleasantries all around, and sit down to eat. A few minutes into the conversation the lawyer asks your potential client, “So, what’s going on at your company lately?,” “What do you want to get done in the next year or so?,” and “What do you think you need to do to get these things done?”
You are amazed by some of your potential client’s answers. You find he has opened up, going on for good chunks of time about the major initiatives at his company, including some initiatives he has not yet launched.
As you listen, you realize there are at least three areas within these strategic initiatives for which your expertise is a perfect fit and where your firm can help him greatly. And the size of the fees in these areas is three times as large as what you just talked about in your meeting with the prospect only an hour before.
You can see how the lawyer asked future-seeking questions (aspirations), not problem-solving ones (afflictions).
By doing so, he’s able to open an entire new range of opportunities.
So the next time you are preparing to find the areas of the buyer's pain and problems that you can fix, try focusing on his aspirations as well as his afflictions.
You’ll find the conversations to be richer, your relationships deeper, and your sales success greater.