Meet Me at the Solution Gap

We have the P (problem) and the R (result). Now we can determine the S (solution) in the Sales Mapping formula.

When we worked with our client to determine the specific problems they were having, we expanded our questioning to uncover all of the problems they were causing in all of the areas of the organization. We also found out their customer’s and their customer’s customer problems.

A problem statement was completed and tested with the client to verify agreement.

Next, we discovered “What” results our client wanted for each problem.

We also found out “How” they would know and the metrics they would use to measure them.

Depending on your product or offering, you will want to sort the problems into logical workgroups that will match how you deliver your service or product. It is the process flow for meeting the client’s requirements.

If the problems are software-related, they might be sorted by subsystem, training, implementation, etc. If they are hardware-related, they may belong in components, manufacturing, distribution, etc.

Past, Present and Future

The problem was determined from information about the past. We found out how long they had it, what they had done in the past to fix it, and how it happened or was created. The problem may have been there for some time but, the reality was, it was still there that day.

The problem was both the past and the present.

Because they have been dealing with the problem, they know, all too well, what they want instead. They can tell you exactly what the result should be, even though it is not there yet. It is not real, but in their mind’s eye it is.

I believe this because, when we ask, “What is the problem you are having?” we get the answer or solution, not the problem.

The result is in the future.

Meet me at the “Gap”

The question for the salesperson and the delivery team is: “How do we get from today to tomorrow?”

Your client wants results and will evaluate your proposal, contingent on how you intend to give them the results they already know they want.

Welcome to the gap.

The gap between the two is where you and your team will spend your time mapping your answer.

Problem – List the specific problem and, since you will be hearing it from multiple sources, it is important to complete this analysis for each person or department or customer’s customer.

Gap – This is where you list the service or product you believe will meet your client’s needs.

What – This is what the client told you they wanted.

Yes, No, Partial – How did you score? Did you meet the requirement? Did you not meet it? Or did you have a partial answer?

How – This is where you will list “How” your client will know this will be a success.

Yes, No, Partial – How did you score? Did you meet the requirement? Did you not meet it? Or did you have a partial answer?

Now review your worksheet and you will have an honest evaluation of the areas where you are strong and weak. The analysis that takes place next can go in many directions, but the objective is to satisfy the Sales Mapping formula P+R=S (Problem plus Result equals Solution).

What will the competition do?

You must find out who else will be competing for the same business and rank, by priority, whom you believe will be the strongest. How do you do that? Prepare a gap analysis, as if you were working for your competitor company.

Ranking – Who best satisfies P+R=S for the client, followed by a list of the next highest to the lowest.

Company – Name of the company, firm or, if internal, the group name.

Strength – With what, and where, they are strong

Weakness – With what, and where, they are weak.

Comment – List information that you think is important to know and what they might do to strengthen their weakness.

The questions involved in this analysis are:

  • Can we compete?
  • How do we overcome our weakness?
  • How do we use the competition’s weakness in our favor?
  • How do we bring our strengths to the attention of the buyer?
  • How do we compete against our competitor’s strengths?

The big question comes next: What will our strategy be?

Ask a salesperson: “What is your strategy to win?” And you will get answers like:

  • We must have the lowest price.
  • They must need what we have.
  • A meeting has been set up.
  • We are the best fit.

My all-time favorite from a salesperson was: “We will win, because they like me.” This may be true, but there are other things to consider.

I recall working with a company that had lost a contract and wanted to learn why they had failed. They provided computer hardware as a reseller and had added value services such as training, support and maintenance, and software applications. The company had been in business for five years with annual revenues of $15 million and had great customer references.

I reviewed their strategy, which emphasized their com­mitment to customer satisfaction. I knew that getting new hardware to their clients was important, especially getting equipment repaired and back into the field quickly. They talked up their two regional depots in the southeast and stressed how the people there were all trained experts.

I reviewed the presentations and executive summary in their proposal and picked up on a theme, which highlighted their position as leaders in the computer hardware and maintenance business. They pointed out that, with offices throughout the United States, they were clearly qualified to handle a national account.

So, who was their competition and who won? IBM did. IBM had an office located in every city where the client had an office, including remote areas. They presented the client with a list of the IBM manager’s name and address at each corresponding location.

IBM offered to pick up and deliver the broken hardware. In fact, they supplied loaners, so the company could keep downtime to a minimum. The company who lost the bid had requested that the client ship the hardware. Once repaired, they would return it via overnight delivery.

The list goes on, but this is clearly what happened: a $15-million-dollar regional company was going up against a multi-billion-dollar international company, who clearly was the leader. IBM satisfied the P+R=S formula. If you read the regional company’s proposal, you never would have felt they were a smaller player. In fact, you would have believed they were the industry giant, not IBM.

This strategy is what I call: Big, Bad and Bold

We are the Biggest, Baddest and Boldest in the land; we are the market leader. The rest of you are trying to figure out how to take business from us.

Most salespeople subscribe to this strategy, even when they are not the leader. It is a head-to-head competition that usually cannot be won.

This is exactly what happened to the regional company I was working with, because they did not develop a tactic. Instead, they portrayed themselves as the industry leader, when they were not and IBM was.

I bet during the entire time they met with their client, the client’s strategic plan was never brought out to show the problem they were having. Let’s go back to the formula, P+R=S. The problem is not strategic. It is specific with a cause and effect. The result is tactical and, without it, we lose a competitive advantage. Strategies maintain the competitive advantage.

It always amazes me to walk into a business convention exhibition hall and see all the vendors with a sign with the tag line, “The Industry Leader.” How can all of them be the industry leader? Do people buy from companies other than the real industry leader? Of course they do. Why? Because it is the company that meets P+R=S in the best way.

Let’s talk strategy so we can understand how to use this misunderstood buzzword.

At one time, if you were hungry in New York and did not want to go out to dinner, but wanted a pizza delivered to your home, this was not a problem. You would open the phone course, look under pizza, and find several options for take-out. So, you would call, order your pizza and ask, “How long will it be before it is delivered?” They would answer, “You will get it in about an hour or so.” This being, if you were lucky. When it arrived, it might have been cold and soggy, but this was the way it was.

Until one day, someone looked at this problem. They reasoned: It takes a long time to get a pizza delivered and, when it does show up, it is cold. What if I could deliver a pizza sooner? Maybe within 30 minutes – and hot – or it is free.

Domino’s Pizza is birthed and not because their pizza is better. It simply solves the problem and delivers the result.

This is not strategic – it is tactical. From the tactic comes the strategy. Domino’s strategy is to “dominate pizza home delivery.”

Let’s look at strategy in a business setting. Customers have choices. They have lots of choices between you and all of your competitors.

You are competing for them to think of you first, not any of the other companies. Why are you different from all the rest? How will you solve the client’s problem, get the results and, indirectly or directly, get the personal payoff (what’s-in-it-for-me WIIFM.)

Salespeople view the strategy as winning the deal and having a signed contract. Let me ask you, “How does this help your client?” Is this strategy working?

Your focus must be on how you will get the results they want, measured by the way they told you they wanted them. If you focus your attention on doing this, your chances of getting a signed contract and happy client will increase significantly.

TACTICS

How Do I get my client to think of me first?

After completing the competitive gap analysis, you find yourself in one of the following positions:

  1. You really are the market leader.
  2. You are the strongest answer in many areas where your competitors are not.
  3. You have some of what your client needs and your competitor has the rest.
  4. You will be offering a better product or service in the coming months, but not when your proposal is due.

Here are the tactics and the positions for each:

The Tactic is “Big Bad and Bold”

You are the market leader and, clearly, can solve the problem, get the result and meet the metrics established by the client.

The Tactic is “Change the Game”

You cannot go up against the leader because of their strength, but you did find some chinks in their armor. While the company is good, they are not the best in all areas. You must change the way the game is being played.

What is an example of changing the game?

American Airlines launched a preemptive strike on the competition when it introduced the airline industry’s first frequent flyer program.

Unlike modern myths of popular pastimes, frequent flyer programs did not begin in a garage. They weren’t scribbled out on a napkin in Bob Crandall’s kitchen, nor were they a dot-com wonder.

The fact is, frequent flyer programs, while celebrating their 20th Anniversary on May 1, 2001, aren’t anything they started out to be, except one thing – successful. The roots of these programs can be traced back to 1979, when the advertising agency for American Airlines proposed that American do something special for its best customers. At that time, banks were offering toasters and electric blankets to their best established customers and to new customers opening accounts. They were having great success with the promotion.

The advertising agency’s idea was to offer American’s best customers a special “loyalty fare”. They came to the conclusion that frequent travelers would not likely feel rewarded by a special fare. They were supported in their conclusion by the Pricing Department at American Airlines, which offered up a conclusion that a loyalty fare would likely be matched by any other airline and American would likely lose some revenue from decreased yield.

After some ideas were kicked around at American, the Marketing Plans group agreed that a free trip would mean a lot more to a frequent traveler, if it included a deal for a companion and a first class upgrade. At the time, first class was a relative unknown for the frequent traveler. Typically, movie stars and VIP’s solely occupied this space.

The idea was then defined to pursue a concept that offered a frequent traveler the equivalent of a free first-class trip to Hawaii from any domestic point, with a free upgrade for any companion for whom a ticket, at even the lowest fare, was purchased. Of course, Hawaii was a symbolic destination, because most business travelers would not have traveled there on business and would find it an attractive incentive to fly American Airlines.

The airline frequent flyer plans have captured their own separate identities since their inception 20 years ago, resulting in profitable partnerships that contribute to airline revenues, while offering opportunities to further expand outside the airline industry.

The feature providing the clear advantage (no pun intended) was Advantage Frequent Traveler, the automated tracking of member mileage and monthly statements.

British Airways used its extensive reservations network for “piggybacking”. In addition to sales of airline tickets, British Airways introduced hotel coursing through their system and most other carriers eventually followed suit.

These moves fundamentally changed the way business was done in the airline and banking industries and raised the barriers to entry.

How much revenue does this bring in? Estimates are as high as $800 million for American Airlines!

C. The Tactic is “Let’s Team up…Partner”

If your competitor’s weakness is your strength and your weakness is your competitor’s strength, then partnering or teaming may be a very strong option.

After all, isn’t it better to walk out with some revenue, rather than none?

D. The Tactic is “Wait”

It was said, some time ago, that you were never fired for buying IBM, but you could be for buying elsewhere. IBM didn’t always have the latest and greatest first, but did follow with the best version soon after the competition. IBM had such a reputation for quality, education and support that it was better to wait for their product, than take a chance with a start-up or small company that did not have the prestige and track record of IBM.

The idea is to stall if you have a solution soon to be introduced.

Putting tactics to work

After choosing the tactic, you must build other tactics to make it happen, and your strategy will come from this.

American Airlines wanted to reward their best flyers because these flyers represented significant revenue to the company. The tactic was free trips. The strategy was to keep customers loyal to American Airlines and avoid having them use a competitor’s airline. When American launched the program with their base of loyal flyers, they underestimated the impact of the program. They did not anticipate attract­ing a significant amount of additional new customers who wanted to earn free trips.

Based on what your analysis is, you must select one of these tactics to satisfy the clients P+R=S.

USP (no, not what comes in a brown truck)

You have asked for some time to make a presentation to the CEO, but you are told his calendar has no available time.

What if you were walking down the hallway with your prospective client and you ran into the CEO. Your prospect introduces you as the salesperson with Xyz Company, who is working on developing a proposal for the big project their company is working on.

“Really?” the CEO says. “So, tell me how you are going to solve this for us?”

  • What would you say?
  • Would you go into a lengthy explanation?
  • Would you ask for that half-hour or hour appointment?
  • Would you say it was a great question and you had your best people working on it?

More than likely you would start going into an answer that is too lengthy or too detailed, and you would lose the opportunity to let him know why your company is uniquely positioned to solve this problem.

Sales Mapping requires that you develop a Unique Selling Proposition or USP for each proposal. Your USP is a headline and the purpose of the headline is to read the next line. In this case, you want that invitation into the CEO’s office for the opportunity to review, in more detail, why your solution is the best.

How do you develop your USP? Easy! Remember the problem statement Getting to the Problem?

The problem we are having is………………..

and this causes these problems……….

for ………………………..

If the problem continues, this will happen:…………………..

In fact, this problem has already limited us from getting…………

In the Lesson “Getting to the Result,” we uncovered the “What” – the specifics of what they want – and the “How” of getting them what they want.

You want to develop your USP to include the problem, the expected result, how this will be measured and what your solution is. If this sounds familiar, it should, because it goes back to P + R=S. It has to be short and powerful, so it will forever stick in the client’s mind. When they think of the project, you want them to think of your USP.

The construction of the USP is to take what we have already collected and present it in the following way.

The problem is: (insert the specific problems) This is causing you not to get: (insert the expected result) What we will do is: (insert your tactic/solution) Success will be measured by: (insert their criteria)

If American Airlines had developed a USP, it might have looked like this back in 1979:

The problem is: The deregulation of airfares has created extremely competitive ticket pricing. We are at risk of losing a significant part of what is now our steady revenue stream from our best customers, because they will start traveling with other airlines.

This is causing you not to get: Keeping “Loyal” customers.

What we will do is: Change the way the game is played by creating a program to reward our loyal customers with a free trip, including a deal for a companion and a first class upgrade.

Success will be measured by: The number of extra trips the program will generate.

“Stretch” is the term used to describe how many extra trips the program will generate.

Stretch minimum – All costs of the initial program would be covered if each traveler in the program took one-quarter of an extra trip per year.

Stretch Actual – “Stretch” actually was six extra trips on American Airlines per traveler, per year.

The key is to develop your USP as early as possible and review it with your client. The test is not to determine if you think it is right but, rather, if your client thinks it is right. Now is not the time to follow my rules for me are my rules for you.

Use this USP in your presentations, proposals, and every time you converse with the client. Why? Because it separates you from the pack.

Clients want to know that:

  • You understand their unique problem.
  • You know the results they want.
  • You have an answer that gets the results for them.
  • They can feel comfortable knowing they are making the right choice; in other words, they can say, “I trust you.”

 

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