One of the best books to specifically examine the high value product or service sales by researching successful sales calls was “Spin Selling”. R&D and New Business Development professionals can use the techniques described see if their new ideas are ultimately going to be sellable. Getting this insight early in the development process is critical. The technique is best used via joint sales calls with experienced sales professionals.
This model is broadly a sequence. Generally, for example, most sales discussions begin by establishing some background information using Situation Questions. Then the seller usually uncovers one or more problems. Unless the buyer volunteers these problems it is likely that the seller uncovers them using Problem Questions. Top salespeople don’t jump in with solutions at this point, but rather explore the problem. And they build the pain a little. To do so it’s likely they will ask Implication Questions. Finally the discussion turns to solutions and that’s were successful people ask Need-Payoff Questions. In more detail these questions are:
Situation Questions. Definition: finding out facts about the buyers existing situation. Examples: how many people do you employ at this location? Can you tell me how the system is configured? Impact: the least powerful of the spin questions. Negative relationship to success. Most people ask too many. Advice: eliminate unnecessary situation questions by doing your homework in advance.
Problem questions. Definition: asking about problems, difficulties or dissatisfactions that the buyer’s experiencing with the existing solution. Examples: what makes this operation difficult? Which parts of the system create errors? Impact more powerful than situation questions. People ask more problem questions as they become more experienced at selling. Advice: think of your products or services in terms of problems they solve for buyers, not in terms of the details are characteristics to product possesses.
Implication Questions. Definition: asking about the consequences or effects of a buyers problems, difficulties, or dissatisfactions. Examples: what effect does that problem have on output? Could that lead to added cost? Impact: the most powerful of all spin questions. Top salespeople ask lots of Implication Questions. Advice: these questions are the hardest to ask. Think of the implication questions you might have and plan them carefully before key calls.
Need-Payoff Questions. Definition: asking about the value or usefulness of a proposed solution. Examples: how would a quieter printer help? If we did that how much could you save? Impact: versatile questions used a great deal by top salespeople. Positive impact on customers. Customers rate calls high that contain Need-Payoff Questions as helpful and constructive. Advice: use questions to get buyers to tell you the benefits that your solution can offer.
Paying particular attention to Problem and Implication Questions during buyer discussions around new products offers insight into how the product might be modified / pivoted to increase its value before final launch.
Another good technique for utilizing sales calls to support product development is to observe and track rapport with buyers during the sales process. This is done by using the basic concepts of neurolinguistic programming applied to salesmanship. “Frogs Into Princes” is a good resource to learn how to do this.
The broad model in this case is: gain rapport, identify needs, establish criteria, harness objectives, check rapport, offer plan, gather objections, respond appropriately, request action, and follow-up. Part of the technique also utilizes the triangle shown in the “Cost Time Quality Trade-Offs” figure. This cost/time/quality triangle is used to prioritize the three variables. Having buyers place their trade-offs as a dot on the triangle gives real insight to the product development team for the sweet spot in the market. Again the best use of these techniques is to integrate the technical and business development personnel with experienced sales personnel.
Another tool to consider when integrating sales with R&D deals with “knowing when a product is complete”. Too many innovation efforts have squandered countless hours of dedicated effort and precious resources only to discover that one or more the four basic elements was missing, or the profit potential just isn’t there. Sometimes there is no real need. Sometimes there is no good way of satisfying the need. Cost is prohibitive. Knowing whether an opportunity is complete or not takes a lot of work. The “Context of a Complete and Compelling Opportunity” figure shows these four elements. The figure also shows the two elements that make a compelling opportunity as arrows. Opportunities are all about timing and conditions. That’s why the expression window of opportunity works so well. The window can be opened or closed. The ripeness of the opportunity depends upon the conditions affecting these variables. What makes an opportunity compelling has to do with whether the time is right and the conditions are favorable for needed change. The overwhelming majority of successful innovations exploit change according to Drucker. Innovators need to know what to look for and how to recognize what makes an opportunity compelling. That’s why the sales techniques outlined above are so essential for innovators to master.