You lead with “have I got a deal for you,” and you generally leave with nothing. Proving you have the best right-handed wrench in the world is useless to a left-hander.
Proving is the skill or persuading your customer that your solution fills his need and cures his pain better than your competitors. To do this, you have to thoroughly understand that need and feel that pain. Successful proving means you have to know what you have to prove.
But proving isn’t just about your solution. It’s also about you and your company and it starts the first time you speak to the customer or meet them. The way you dress, the design of your business card, your vocabulary, and everything about you that the customer can sense is proving. Your spaghetti sauce-stained tie doesn’t matter on a phone conversation, but slurring your words after too many Martinis would.
Many sales people go right to proving because it is the easiest and most natural thing to do. You know your product, you know your market, so you assume you know your customer. And maybe you do. But did you know your biggest competitor just made him a low-ball offer to steal the business from you? Or that their new process requires a change in your product configuration? You need to know the current terrain before you can hope to navigate it efficiently and effectively.
Proving starts with a plan that addresses that terrain. That plan will be specific to that customer and that buying cycle. It will incorporate what you now know of the customer’s environment – their needs, budgets, decision-makers – and your products and competition, and, very importantly, the schedule that you must work within. The plan will include interactions with the customer to make your presentations, discuss your offer and their needs, and convince the customer that your solution is the best one, the one that will eliminate whatever pain caused them to start the buying process in the first place.
If you’re selling steel plate to a hinge manufacturer, the plan might be simple and look a lot like all the other plans you’ve made. If you’re selling a 787 Dreamliner to All Nippon Airways, your plan will be quite complex. But you will have a plan.
Proving requires presentation, showing the customer that within his environment, your solution is the best one to fill his need. Proving requires persuasion. The customer will challenge your presentation at every turn, and you must be ready and able to respond effectively.
Proving requires inquisitiveness. You must ask questions and encourage conversation. Customers may want to engage you in discussion, or they may be passive and never go beyond what you say. If you don’t ask, they won’t tell.
Proving requires a relationship. Whether you just met them or you’re their brother-in-law, the customer has to know you and your company and trust both to whatever extent is possible within the environment.
Don’t abuse your proving skill. Apply it when it’s time, apply it with a plan.