Close More Sales. Be Sure to Scratch an Itch

Most salespeople go about the business of selling and handling prospects in the wrong way. And it’s costing them – and their prospects – time and money. It’s a bold statement to make, but I think I can prove it to you. Just look at the salespeople around you and watch them make these two mistakes time and time again:

  1. Focusing on themselves – not the client
  2. Trying to sell into an impossible situation or client

The combination of these two mistakes results in the majority of botched sales. I have never thought that selling was – or is – about using any special techniques. For the most part, it’s not. Rather, making sales is about using common sense and selling to others as you’d like them to sell to you.

In sales, I often like to use the metaphor of a “itch” and a “scratch.” Your prospect has contacted you because they have a problem (the itch) that you can solve (the scratch). In principle, there is a good match here. Your client has an itch that needs to be scratched. And you can scratch the itch, providing much needed relief. If you can agree on price, you have a sale.

As I see it, the sales process is that simple. You match the problem with a solution and agree on a price.

However, we keep screwing up the process and making it less effective – and less successful – than it should be. We waste time and make prospective clients and non-clients very unhappy.

Keeping the itch/scratch metaphor, here are some of the most common problems:

They have an itch. But your scratch may be too expensive

This problem is very common. Both parties agree that the problem and the solution match, but there is a question with the value/cost of the solution. This is probably one of the toughest problems to solve because you never know if the parties are posturing to try to get the better deal – or if their complaint is real.

The way we handle this problem is very simple: we do market research – lots of it! That way we have a good idea of what the market price is for our services. So when we are negotiating, we are no longer too concerned about our pricing relative to the market. Rather, we try to focus on whether we provide enough value to our client. We try to show the prospect how our solution provides the best value.

Obviously, there are situations in which our services are too expensive for our prospects. This is common when we deal with low-margin companies. In this case, our “scratch” is just too expensive. When that happens, we tell the prospect that we can’t provide any value to them – which is the truth. We don’t waste their time trying to convince them to work with us. Rather, we try to refer them to someone else who can help them, and then we move on.

Your customer tells you they have an itch (but they really don’t!)

This common situation can actually waste a lot of time for both parties. The customer thinks they need your product – maybe. They engage with you, ask lots of questions, and provide wishy-washy answers. They seem genuinely interested, but you can never tell for sure. And, in the end, they don’t buy your “scratch.” Why? Well, they never really had a strong “itch” that needed scratching in the first place.

We solve this problem very simply. In our case, most of the prospects that need our factoring services have a certain set of symptoms/problems/itches. Basically, they have symptoms that indicate an itch that we can scratch  For example, many have low bank account balances and a lot of money tied in slow-paying invoices. Others haven’t been able to meet payroll even though they have a ton of work. Each industry has its own list of symptoms.

You can solve this problem much like a doctor diagnoses a disease. Doctors ask a lot of questions trying to zero in on your problem. Do the same. Ask lots of specific questions. And if you don’t find a problem – tell them. Then move on to the next prospect.

The prospect has an unscratchable itch

Like the previous issue, this situation can waste a lot of time for both parties. The prospect has an “itch” that can’t be scratched – no matter how hard you try. The problem with these situations is that they can take a long time to figure out and diagnose. Often, you will talk to the prospect for a long time, delving into details, until you realize that you can’t help them.

The way to solve this problem is similar to the way you solve the previous problem. You examine the situation and look for symptoms. However, this time you look for incurable symptoms. For example, in my industry, we look to see if the company has convoluted billing practices and invoices that can’t be verified. We also see if they have guaranteed/consignment sales, which can’t be funded. These symptoms are indications of a situation in which I won’t be able to help. The customer has an un-scratch-able itch. Again, we tell them and move on.

Your customer has a cut. You still want to sell them a scratch

We see this problem every day in high-pressure sales situations. The customer has a “cut” but the salesperson only sells “scratches.” So they start pushing their “scratch” very hard and try to convince the client that the scratch will help the “cut.” Scratching their cut won’t bring relief – it brings pain! If the sale closes, it will lead to an unsatisfied client and loss of reputation.

The only way out of this one is to tell the prospect that you don’t have the right solution for them. If you know someone who can help them, direct them that way.

Conclusion – How I sell

I am not saying that I am a star salesperson. Far from it. But I have a method that works for me, and it works well. When I speak to a prospect I always go back to the itch/scratch metaphor. First, I determine if the client has an itch that we can scratch. If they do, I tell the prospect how my scratch will benefit their itch. However, I always focus on their itch – on their problem first. This point is crucial.

Listen first. Once they (keyword – they!) feel I understand their problem, I move on to explaining the solution. I make sure that they understand the benefits and advantages of my solution with respect to their problem – and with respect to my competitors’ solutions. And since they know I am familiar with their itch, because I was listening, they trust my solution. No high-pressure tactics. No sales tricks. No “sales-weasel” techniques. No trying to sell a scratch to cure a cut. I treat them how I like to be treated myself. The most successful salespeople I know use this technique to great success.