“If the prospect hasn’t got a problem, you won’t make a sale”

Selling is still selling. The Web hasn’t got rid of the old verities

Complex sales online are a challenge that many fail to meet. The world of commerce has moved from seller-led to buyer-led and it’s easy to believe that all the old sales verities have vanished. They haven’t. Something learned in the old days by every salesperson who was any good was: “If the prospect hasn’t got a problem, you won’t make a sale.” That was true when a Liverpool salesperson might go from customer to customer in one of these

Complex sales online: Liverpool Tram

From Hugh Taylor’s collection

and it’s true now, when that salesperson’s successor might talk about a proposal to a prospect in South America without leaving the house. No problem, no sale.

Complex sales online: What IS a problem?

Of course, “problems” means different things to different people. Being hungry is a problem a restaurant or a supermarket can help with. A car breakdown opens opportunities for repair workshops and new car dealerships. Those are easy – but what problem is solved when someone spends £5000 on a watch? If you have such a thing on your wrist at the moment, you might be prepared to acknowledge that one of the problems it addresses is the need to inspire confidence in others about your financial stability. (There are other possibilities, of course).

When I began my sales career, longer ago than I sometimes care to admit, machine shop scheduling systems were my best selling products. It took an average of 18 months to persuade a prospect to ditch their long-standing and trusted card system for a newfangled computer, but before I could even start that process I first had to find out whether the company had a problem.

Complex sales online: a machine shop

A Typical Machine Shop Courtesy Michigan Scientific Corporation

Unless it was a machine shop with a very limited product range and few customers, they always did have a problem, and I could always solve it, because plotting the optimum route of different sized batches through a variety of processes is beyond the wit of any human, but perfectly suited even to the computers we had then. But I still had to find the problem and get the prospect to acknowledge it and to say “Yes” to that standard salesperson’s question: “If I could show you a way to shorten that long lead time/cut work-in-process/slip an urgent new order into the mix without delaying your other orders, would you be interested in evaluating my solution?”

The questions I asked were about routing, batch sizes, lead times and work in process. Those last two were key because, typically, the Kraus machine shop scheduling system (it was named after Werner Kraus, the IBMer who invented it), would reduce W-I-P by a minimum of 60%, and cut lead times in half while it was about it. Those savings paid for the system.

How do you get the information you need to make complex sales online?

The question I’m asking now is: how do you go about that information gathering exercise when you never meet or even talk to the prospect and you have to rely on what’s on your website to make the sale? You haven’t just walked into the prospect’s office – the prospect is visiting your site. The prospect hasn’t set aside 30 minutes to talk to you – if you don’t grab his or her attention and hold it, she or he will be gone to another website inside ten seconds and all you’ll have to show for the visit will be another Google bounce. (And the Google bounce is far worse than the dead cat bounce ever was).

It isn’t easy. And, if your copywriter isn’t also an old-time, old-style salesperson with a proud record of banging on doors and taking orders, it probably isn’t even possible. If you have a product or service that isn’t an easy sale and you want to talk about promoting it to someone who actually understands what the problem is, get in touch. Fill out this form and I’ll be right back to you.