The “show your work” approach to sales leads

In News by Ken Valla

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Re-designing Sales Excellence: Bring value by walking backwards with your customers

The B2B sales landscape continues to evolve. Technology and data alone are reshaping how salespeople operate and bring value to their customers. Late last year, Forrester reported that corporate buyers are likely to be as much as 60% through the buying process before they even connect with a salesperson; that companies prefer to do their research online, as opposed to using salespeople as their means of information. If market changes aren’t enough, these statistics alone suggests that sellers can no longer rely on traditional approaches for the winning of sales opportunities.

If customers are 60% along in the buying process, and a sales person receives a lead to support them, how will this sales person add value to a customer that is well on their way to forming a decision? In the same way – if your team was in a one hour meeting with a possible client, and you entered the conversation at the 40 minute mark, how can you seamlessly join into this discussion? Moreover how can you add conversion value to the customer and your business?

Rather than accept where the customer is in their buying process and trying to move forward, I teach salespeople that they add value by walking backwards with their customers.


Bear with me.

Back when I was in high school math class I would always try and write in the final answer to the equation and my teacher would say “show your work”. What they were asking was “how did you arrive at that answer?”

This is a great mentality and approach for corporate decision making. When a new lead comes in, the salesperson should prepare as if the customer is 60% through their buying process; as if that customer has identified a need, decided on how they want to address that need, and are now looking for solutions based on the opinions they have obtained through that journey.

As a salesperson, I say “great……show me your work!”

What might initially seem inefficient, is actually the best way for a salesperson to bring value to their customer regardless of where they are on the journey. In doing so, sellers can differentiate themselves and help move the buy/sell process forward.

So what does walking backwards look like?

Ask the customer to please help you understand how they got to this point in the process? What was the origin of the opportunity? What decisions have already been made? Why did they decide on this approach to solving the need? Asking them to show you their work is not disrespectful but rather a means understanding their thinking, and helps provide insight as to how this customer operates.

There are multiple outcomes (and opportunities) from this “show your work” type conversation. Usually it validates for the salesperson that this is a well thought out opportunity. At a minimum this outcome will depict to the customer that as a salesperson you want to understand them and ensure your company is a good fit based on their assumptions to that point.

Alternatively, the “show your work” conversation might reveal a flaw in the customer’s thinking. In this outcome, the salesperson has an opportunity to help reshape how the customer is viewing this initiative. This is a terrific chance to share examples or ideas that might guide the customer in a better direction, thereby becoming a salesperson who adds value to the customer.

The outcome of both is a reshaping of how the customer views the salesperson – you shift from a ‘seller’ to a consultant and partner who is there to add value.

The ultimate job of a salesperson is to differentiate from competition and add value. Accepting what you receive makes this very difficult to achieve because the salesperson is likely to be missing up to 60% of their customer’s picture.

So back up with a “show your work” conversation. Not only will you find opportunities to differentiate, but you are certain to add value and change your perceived relationship with the client.