There's a concept in the U.S. military called "the ground truth." It’s the idea that while generals sitting in offices far behind the front lines create plans, the soldiers on the field of battle are the ones who truly understand the battlefield terrain, with all of its horrible threats, challenges, and difficult objectives.
The ground truth is the information gathered on location is often very different from what distant planners, experts, and consultants believe it to be. The ground truth -- and its tactical realities, obstacles, and unpredictability -- is always worse in person than it is on paper. That's why you need to understand the ground to perform a real diagnosis on a client company.
Here are four reasons you're failing to make an accurate diagnosis.
1) You're Interpreting Your Prospect's Experience Through Your Own
Salespeople are eager to promote their products, services, and solutions because they are confident in their ability to make a difference and experience tells them they can succeed. But leading with your experience doesn't allow your prospects to go through the buying process, explain their current dissatisfaction, collaborate with you around their needs, and explore options.
Leading with your experience can damage your ability to sell. This is not to say that your experience is unimportant. In fact, your experience is critical to an effective diagnosis. However, we too often view our prospects' problems through our existing solutions and what we have done for other clients. The point of a diagnosis is not to prove that you can push one of your existing solutions onto your prospect. Neither is it to confirm which of your solutions you should sell your client. Rather, it is to learn and discover. Remember, the sales process is other-oriented.
Proper diagnosis requires that you listen and understand your client's experience. You can apply your own experience later, after you have deepened your understanding.
2) You're Ignoring Your Dream Client’s Vision
It’s tempting to filter your client’s situations through your own vision of the proper solution, but you would be ignoring the client’s vision. It’s true that clients do not always have the knowledge, expertise, or experience to know how their outcomes can be improved. But when you are open to understanding, you will discover that they often have visions of what they need, and whether they realize it or not, they assess ideas based on those visions.
Brushing aside your prospects’ visions of the proper solution is perilous. Don’t ignore them. Instead, find out how they see their business results being improved. Even if they’re wrong about what is necessary, you must understand what they believe is necessary and work from there. Otherwise, they will feel as if you were trying to shove something down their throats.
3) You Fail to Understand Your Client's Constraints and Obstacles
It is vital that you uncover the constraints that hinder solutions, whether they be financial, process, external, or other limitations. You must also uncover any obstacles that stand in the way of your developing, selling, implementing, and executing your solution.
It’s likely that your competitors didn’t understand these constraints when they sold your clients their product or solution. Now your client isn’t getting the needed results because the previous salespeople didn’t deal with these constraints. You don’t want to be the next salesperson to fail because you didn’t discover the real obstacles to change.
4) You Fail to Ask the Difficult Questions.
A sound diagnosis requires asking your client difficult questions. Questions such as the following force a client to face the ground truths in her own company:
What is the cost of not improving performance?
Why hasn't the problem been solved before?
Who needs to be on the team to ensure our solutions are approved?
Who might oppose this solution?
Failing to ask these questions puts your opportunity at risk. Even if your solution is chosen, failure to ask these questions puts the execution of your solution at risk.
Small salespeople ask weak questions. They don't want to bring up big, uncomfortable, challenging issues. For one, they don't know how to deal with those issues. Second, they fear that bringing up tough issues will make their prospects uncomfortable and cost them the deal.
The very best salespeople aren't afraid to ask the tough questions. They "get real"-sometimes very real. They know they are trusted be cause they aren't afraid to help their clients deal with big, challenging issues. They aren't worried that their client is causing them to stretch because they understand that this is the way to grow. The best salespeople run toward a challenge.