I met Jeff Thull, a leading thinker in sales strategy many years ago when I brought him into Teamstudio, to create a robust sales process. I’ve tweaked his Diagnostic Sales process many times since then, and embedded it into several businesses that I’ve helped manage.

Jeff puts it well in his books stating, there’s only two reasons people don’t buy. First they don’t have the problem you are claiming to solve. Second they have the problem but don’t believe you are a credible solution.

In today’s business environment you need to understand both these constraints on your ability to sell.

1. People with your problem

First you need to have a process that uncovers those prospects that should have the problem you are solving. Preparation and research are key. Marketing and sales need to work together to uncover these companies. Forget whether these companies understand they have the problem. You first need to ask: what companies should have the problem? What companies are looking for the outcomes you deliver? That list of prospects worldwide could be 200, 2000 or 2m. But start there. Life today in sales is about them not you! It’s about knowing your market, the drivers, the bends in the road, the client’s client pains.

This is the start of understanding the phrase “absence of value”. A prospect with symptoms of the problem you solve but who has not bought your stuff, must have an “absence of value” – your value! They may have solved this problem with an in-house solution, or a competitor’s solution or they may be ignoring the problem. All three scenarios require different “Engagement Strategies”. An engagement strategy is a plan of attack deployed by world-class sales professionals fine-tuned to the unique circumstances of each case.

In-House Solution Deployed: Say the prospect has deployed an in-house solution. An engagement strategy would try to uncover various consequences of that decision. Namely the accuracy and reliability of this solution given that it is unlikely, to be their core competency. Secondly the resources required to maintain an in-house system could be surprisingly high if known. Finally how up to date can this in-house system be? Technology moves so quickly. Check out Tom Friedman’s new book explaining why we are in an exponential period of change if you are in any doubt. Is management’s time really wisely spent investing in an in-house solution?

Competitor’s Solution Deployed: Again, an engagement strategy would try to uncover various consequences of that decision. These may include: risks of relying on one vendor, compromising on the outcomes you really want to achieve because it’s “cheaper”, ignorance of higher levels of performance and therefore higher levels of ROI and potentially higher total cost of ownership because of ongoing maintenance costs.

No Solution, Problem is Being Ignored: In general, managers are often too busy to contemplate the consequences of ignoring problems. Clearly there always comes a tipping point when a problem becomes a huge priority. However the skilled salesman knows how to articulate the consequences of procrastination around problems. Lost sales through missed opportunities to bring product to market, failed quality standards leading to penalties, or just pure productivity gains being lost can all form persuasive arguments. The skill is also delivering this message without making the prospect feel bad. “I can’t believe you aren’t buying into this when some of your weaker competitors are already doing it”, is NOT an effective strategy!

2. Your Credibility Is Weak

Skilled sales professionals are not offended by a prospect’s disbelief. Instead their default position is – curiosity. Why doesn’t the prospect believe you? First rule of negotiation – clarify the reasons why someone believes what they do. Did you fail before in the distant past with a weaker product? Is the prospect responding to rumors? Are you being repositioned by your competitor? Smith LLC is a fine manufacturer with a fine product but not in the 3 micron space! Building credibility of course is an essential objective of the marketing team. Their editorial calendar should be pumping out remarkable content: case studies, white papers, insightful market observations and smart videos demonstrating credibility. This is why marketing material must be about the outcomes you achieve for clients. And not just bland generic stuff, but targeted results you have achieved for real recognizable companies. Credibility takes years to build and it should. Your lack of credibility is not your prospect’s fault. Marketing and sales need to have a symbiotic relationship. In today’s market, your early suspects in the sales funnel should be born and nurtured in the marketing department. A lack of credibility is an example of failed story telling. Now if your product sucks that’s a different type of problem.

If your sales process doesn’t capture this mindset, even a great product won’t save you.