Success Criteria - Ask So That You Can Sell

Would it be helpful to know what your prospect would pay the most for? Would it be helpful to know how you can do the best job for him or her? This is the next step in the 7-Step process.

This is the fifth of a series of articles on how to increase the recognition of your value. Use it to improve your margins and your take home pay. The price support series will follow the 7-Step process we discussed in January. Each article will take a step and explore it in depth.

If you want to sell, you have to know. To know, you have to learn. The bad news is that you cannot learn with your mouth open. You came with two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. Which is always busy? To find what your prospect values highest and how they define a great result - ask.

The nicest way to ask may be to ask about their criteria for success when the product or service you are selling has done what they bought it for. Here are two steps to do that.

Step one is to find out what the key issues are. It could be as simple as following your U.S.P. (see SalesDoctors September 29) with "Does that problem keep you awake at night? If not, what does?"

Do not assume that you know. For instance, most people assume that the answer from the CEO is cutting costs or managing sales. It isn't. If you assume, your customer may think you arrogant. (For the results of a recent survey asking that question of a group of CEOs, see below.)

Step two is to ask how your customer will measure success for the resolution of that problem.

Why do you care about how they measure success?

1 - Put yourself in a customer's shoes. Would you prefer to deal with a salesperson who cares about their commission or a businessperson who cares to understand your business needs? So would your customers. This positions you to be that businessperson.

2 - If you know how they measure success, you can see how much value you will contribute. This increases the chances of your asking and getting full payment.

3 - If your customer is focused on his or her most important problems, your price becomes less important. They may bicker over something less critical, but for the top problem they will want to get to solution as soon as possible.

4 - With Success Criteria, you will know what would be extra work or product is not needed. Not supplying unneeded material or service cuts their prices and improves your margins.

5 - You can use this later to get more business at a higher profit from the same customer.

The words to ask about success criteria are quite easy. You can ask questions like:

- How will you know when you are done?

- How will you know when to celebrate?

Or my favorite:

- What is success for this project?

The answer might be as simple as "Always beating the market's return" or as complicated as a contingent technical specification. However, a good answer will always be specific, measurable, attainable, and important.

The question might cause a bit of quiet time. This is good, don't rush it. Let the silence continue until they understand the answer. If your customer has not yet thought this through, he or she needs to do that. If you help them get here, you are helping them to run their own business.

Once you have their criteria, make sure you understand them by repeating it in their words.

At this point it may be tempting to ask - "If I can do that for you, what is it worth to you?" Do not give in to this. Instead, ask "Who else would this be important to?" List the stakeholders, and then ask "Do they have the same definition of success? Can we ask them?" Usually, your sponsor will agree to find out.

What you have now is invaluable. You have the list of key stakeholders in the decision. You have an idea of how they measure success. You probably have the right and support to ask the other stakeholders what keeps them up at night. You can go to them to get their success criteria for the purchase. You are no longer just a vendor. You are a person who asks the right questions. Spread your value to the stakeholders and to your sponsor by volunteering to do a survey.

Close for that survey. We'll explain what that means in the November 24 SalesDoctors.

Meanwhile, if you want a copy of the article on "What Keeps the Company President Up at Night?" from the October Business & Economic Review, please drop an E-mail to Peter, specifically asking for that article.