7 Ways Elevate Your Dialogue from Requirements to Needs

Dan Smaida – Wednesday, September 29, 2016

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a client’s Enterprise Sales team on strategies for responding to RFPs (Requests for Proposals).  Although they’re different, RFP sales and Committee sales are fundamentally similar – they’re both complex sales.

In procurement-driven RFP sales, the “official” needs expressed by the customer come in the form of requirements.  However, Requirements are not necessarily Needs, and Needs are not always expressed in the requirements.  As I said, it’s complex. I’ve worked with a lot of clients on this type of situation, and several best practices stand out:

First, focus on the person in front of you.  The corollary is, “Don’t look over your customer’s shoulder while you’re talking with them.” One of the biggest mistakes I see is sellers asking about the committee too soon and taking their eye off the person in front of them. Which leads to the second point…

Find out what the customer personally needs – and WHY. Requirements are a great starting point for this conversation, because they’re usually a composite of individual needs.  Unwind that puzzle using questions like, “I see that X is something the committee is asking for.  Is that something you want for your students?  Why is that important?” (NOTE: This is only an example.  Make your own questions.)

Ask WHY the requirements are the requirements. The word WHY is the most underrated word in professional selling.  Be relentless on this question, because the answer to WHY usually leads you to the needs you must meet best to win. You may also be uncovering root causes and needs that aren’t expressed in the requirements – A KEY OPPORTUNITY TO DIFFERENTIATE YOUR SOLUTION!

Ask who drove the requirements.  I’ve never seen a complex sale that wasn’t driven or heavily influenced by one or more individuals. Even in “democratic” selection processes, the key to winning the complex sale isn’t winning with everyone – it’s winning with enough of the right people.  Those people often have a heavy hand in forming the requirements. (Note that this is also a handy substitute for the salesy question, “Who are the key decision-makers?”)

Ask about what they didn’t ask for. Here’s your chance to elevate the dialogue back to requirements where you win.  WHY aren’t they asking for implementation or support?  WHY aren’t personalized learning tools part of the formal requirements? Could those capabilities be desirable? If so, you may be able to introduce (at the least informal) requirements that will help them succeed and also help us win.

Ask about priorities…and WHY. Often, the list of requirements is either not in order or in partial order. Example:  Price is usually either first or last on the list, but in reality it’s sometimes not the most important requirement. (And it’s almost never the least important.) Ask about their priorities and WHY they’re that way. Ask how different requirements compare to each other and WHY.

Triangulate – ask everyone about everything in this post. And I mean everyone. Draw an org chart of all the people who decide/vote. Then add all the people that influence the deciders.  Then look around the influences to see who you missed. And call on all of them. (Example: In both RFP and committee sales an often-overlooked influence is the adjunct professor.)  And hearing different answers to similar questions helps you understand how aligned the customer is…or not.

To summarize, formal requirements add a level of complexity that equals an opportunity – to elevate the dialogue from formal requirements to real needs from real people, and thus elevate your chances to win with the right people.  And don’t forget to capture it all in your Strategy Worksheet for efficient knowledge management!

Good selling,