Sales is the somewhat dark art of convincing people to buy stuff.
I hope that rubbed you the wrong way. Maybe you almost jumped out of your seat to write a strongly worded comment about why that’s wrong.
We don’t believe that — and you shouldn’t either. But the problem is that many people, including a lot of salespeople, do see sales that way.
This idea is long overdue for an upgrade.
Over the past few years, we’ve been pioneering a new approach that we like to call Decision Intelligence Selling. And today we want to show you how you and your colleagues can use it to break that old idea of sales and bring new life into our old profession.
The Power of Decision Intelligence Selling
Mark Jopling (who’s graciously given his permission to use his real name in this story) leaned back from the table in the conference room of the global technology company where he was VP of Sales and said…
“I want my sales teams to learn how to do strategic selling. I’ve set aside two hours for this meeting. How can you help us?”
“Strategic selling is a term that’s used in a variety of ways. What exactly are you wanting your people to do that they’re not already doing? And, what’s in the way of them doing it?”
We spent the next hour listening to Mark clarify his thinking and identify the challenges his people were facing — in the market, in the company, and in themselves. He was direct, honest, and articulate.
Suddenly, he placed both hands on the table and said…
“Now I know what I want. I want my people to sell to our clients the same way you’ve been selling to me for the past hour.”
That was extraordinary — a revelation for him and a confirmation for us. Mark identified what he wanted and the issues he had to face to get it.
We learned that our new approach to selling was not only effective, but it felt natural, kept us at ease, and generated a compelling trust with our prospective client.
Mark did indeed become a client, and soon thereafter, a respected friend and colleague. And it all started when we were willing to resist the itch to pitch and focus instead on helping him develop his decision intelligence (DQ) — his ability to make the best possible buying decision for his company.
Transformation over improvement
We didn’t just stumble into the sales philosophy we used with Mark. It came off the back of failure.
We had recently lost two big sales that were ours to land. After those deals fell through, we took a few weeks to take a hard look at how we were selling.
Now, we could have taken the traditional route to sales improvement, which focuses, at best, on skill and technique and, at worst, on what can be called tips and tricks where elements of the selling process are dissected into pieces and looked at individually under a microscope.
But we didn’t want to just improve the content of our words or the way we designed our slide decks. This kind of improvement is fine, but it’s surface level. It’s temporary. It works today until buyers get wise to the tactics we’re employing or get numb to every Salesperson saying the same thing.
We were, instead, aiming for transformation.
We wanted a permanent change in perspective that released our sales team’s natural ability to sell wisely and well.
So, we started our self-evaluation with a brutally honest contextual question, “when we talk to prospective clients, what are we fundamentally trying to do?”
The answer was plain. We were trying to get them to buy what we were selling.
It was obvious, it was logical, and it was unsatisfying. It wasn’t that it was wrong. It just wasn’t right enough.
Once we uncovered the truth of what we’d been doing, we called on our background in transformational learning, and we chose another purpose for our sales conversations — building up our client’s DQ — his decision intelligence.
So now for the big question. What is Decision Intelligence, and how do you use it in your practice?
What Is Decision Intelligence?
IQ and EQ (intellectual and emotional intelligence) are well-known concepts. We coined the term DQ to refer to decision intelligence.
This was the sort of selling we committed ourselves to. We thought of it as a fourth way to sell — a fundamental shift in the purpose of selling that was compellingly different from the three other categories of sales approaches — passive, transactional, and consultative.
Most salespeople are stuck in transactional selling. This is where we were before we decided to transform our business. More and more sales professionals are teaching consultative selling, where you build a relationship and you help the customer find the product that they want most.
This is great, but there is one problem.
It’s still about you. You are still telling the buyer what is best for them rather than facilitating them to determine what is best for their business.
This is where Decision intelligence goes further.
Now that we understood what our goal really was, the content of our sales approach fell into place rather easily.
As sellers, we needed to lead buyers through a series of steps that would increase the buyer’s ability to make the best possible purchasing decision — for themselves and for their company.
Now the question becomes, what are these steps?
Raising a Client’s DQ
Whether it happens in one conversation or over multiple exchanges, prospective clients need to fully understand two things in order to have a high DQ — the problem they are trying to solve and the solution that will best solve it.
You can illustrate this with a graph that rates a buyer’s understanding of each element on a 10-point scale.
When a buyer has a “10” understanding of their problems (their challenges, issues, performance gaps) and a “10” understanding of the solution being offered by the seller, they have a 100% DQ (10 x 10).
What we learned — and what was so compelling for Mark during that first hour we spent together — was that potential clients need to fully understand the problem before they try to understand the Solution.
To create this level of understanding about the problems a buyer is facing, a seller has to guide them through a significant conversation (often several conversations) about two topics:
- You need to discuss all of the relevant problems that must be solved to achieve their goals.
- And then you must guide them to a conservative calculation of what it costs them to leave these problems unsolved.
When you complete these first two steps, the tone of the conversation changes.
Both buyer and seller have a clarity that wasn’t there previously.
The buyer knows exactly what they really need and the price they’re paying for not having it.
The sellers now know exactly which solution to offer.
The next two steps are about helping the buyer understand your solution. And this is where you, the seller, can bring your expertise to exactly the issues that matter to the buyer. Your goal here is to,
- Achieve a collaborative understanding of the solution that will solve the buyer’s problems.
- And then estimate the value of the solution for their business — both the quantitative and qualitative values.
Now the buyer can make a genuinely informed decision.
What happens when you don’t increase your buyer’s DQ?
The inconvenient truth is that most buyers come to a sales conversation without a high DQ. This is the case even for the most sophisticated of potential clients.
When we ask our students to rate the DQ their prospective clients bring to their first sales conversation, they, on average, say their most insightful buyers score an 8 on the Problem axis and a 6 on the Solution axis. Whereas, their less sophisticated buyers score more like a 3 and a 3.
When you do the math, that means their least savvy buyers have a staggeringly low 9% DQ. And even their most sophisticated buyers come to the sales conversation with only a 48% DQ.
The DQ gap is significant.
And buyers fill this gap with two fundamental questions: what are you trying to sell me, and how much does it cost?
That’s where most selling conversations begin… and end.
While guiding your prospects to a full understanding of their problems may be difficult for them to face, it generates a real concern that moves them forward.
Calculating the cost of leaving these problems unsolved — something that rarely happens in a sales conversation — creates an undeniable urgency to find a solution.
If you’ve got a compelling solution to their problems, their confidence in it will be rock-solid because of the previous two steps.
And thoughtfully estimating the value of that solution to their business is what unlocks their willingness to buy.
Training and practice
We had to undo a lot of selling habits to get good at this. Our clients have had to do the same. But the results are so worth the effort!
Deals progress more slowly at first but move quickly thereafter. Contracts are often larger than the buyer first envisioned because the problems discovered require a bigger solution.
But best of all, there are few, if any, objections that slow down closing, because they’ve already been uncovered and successfully addressed.
As an added bonus, we’ve found that salespeople enjoy selling like this. It’s direct without being manipulative. It’s proactive without being pushy. And it requires the buyer to do work for their own sake.
Will you always get the sale?
No, of course not. But the process itself qualifies the buyer as you guide them through it.
If a client won’t engage in the process, stop working through the four steps, and instead work with them to identify what’s preventing them from proceeding.
Together, you’ll discover If they’re not the right client for you or if you’re not the right supplier for them. If either is the case, you’ll part on good terms and be ready to approach the next sales conversation with greater openness and trust.
And that trust is the ultimate payoff for selling in this way.
Implementing DQ Selling
You’ll know if this way of selling is calling to you. You’ll feel it in your gut.
If you want to explore it further, the best way to do so is to sit down with your sales team and collaborate on these three steps.
Identify the Problems that your products/services solve for your clients
Review your current and past client projects.
What were the challenges they were facing?
What were the issues they needed to confront?
Which problems did you actually help them solve?
Prioritize the list according to which problems you were most effective in solving.
Develop a problem proposition for each item on the list
You will undoubtedly already have value propositions for each of your products and services. In DQ selling, you do use these, but not until Step 3 in the sales conversation.
Instead, help your team develop problem propositions. These are ways of approaching clients that get them to start the sales conversation discussing their problems instead of just listening to your solutions.
Monitor how your sales team actually takes clients through the four steps of the DQ selling conversation
Selling this way is a culture shift for your entire team. And a culture shift is not something you do single-handedly.
Help each other learn how to linger longer on Step 1, and how to actually complete Step 2 with clients who aren’t used to doing this.
Share best practices, and learn the skills required to do these first two steps before moving onto the more familiar territory of sharing your solutions.
A Final Word
Several weeks after that first conversation with Mark, we were sitting in a training room with him and his senior team. We told the story of him putting both hands on the conference table and saying, “I want my team to sell to our clients like you’ve been selling to me.”
Mark smiled and said,
“Let me tell you the rest of the story. You were my sixth interview that week. I had given the other suppliers the same two hours, and I had started the conversation with the same question, ‘How can you help us learn strategic selling?’
Every one of them pulled out their Powerpoint slides and case studies and spent the entire two hours trying to convince me they could help.
You were the only one who opened up your notebooks and asked me what I really wanted, and what was in my way of getting it.
And then he added,
“When I put my hands on the table, it was at that moment I decided to hire you.”
That’s the power of trust, and that’s what a commitment to DQ selling creates.
We wish you every success in learning how to do this consistently and well. It takes time, patience, and a willingness to learn. But the payoff is huge.
Authors: Scott Roy and Roy Whitten from Whitten & Roy Partnership
Scott A. Roy is the CEO and co-founder of international sales consultancy Whitten & Roy Partnership. He has spent his lifetime building and running large direct-sales organizations and co-founded a $1B nationwide insurance company in the United States.
W. Roy Whitten is the co-founder of Whitten & Roy Partnership. He is an expert in attitude and its role in human performance and sales management. In 2004, he earned a PhD for his work in transformative learning and change. In over 40 years as a trainer, consultant and coach, he has personally coached and trained over 100,000 people.