So long as there are products and services offered by an organization, there will be the existence of a sales force.
The basic fundamentals of selling are simple: a customer expresses a desire for something and, in turn, someone sells them a product or service to address that desire. Essentially, sales are how an organization converts a “want” into a “need.” While these fundamentals are timeless, they are rooted in a reactive process.
When an organization focuses solely on sales in a reactionary way, they can be quite limiting. So, instead of waiting for a customer to have a need, where a plethora of competitors stack up with their own products or services to fulfill that need, you can actually help a customer discover a need they never knew they had.
In most cases, the customer thinks they know all the solutions to their problem, and only inquire about something with which they’re already familiar, and too often, a business or organization delivers on exactly what they want, rather than solving a problem the customer doesn’t realize they have.
In my Anticipatory Leader System, I teach about a competency called the Hard Trend Methodology. With the Hard Trend Methodology, a business leader learns to identify Hard Trends, which are future certainties that will happen, and use those Hard Trends to pre-solve a problem before it becomes a problem.
The key in this case is pre-solving a problem, or identifying a problem that a customer will always have, and a solution they don’t realize they need. A simple example of a Hard Trend could be a cyclist who will need new tires eventually. As long as bicycles have tires, cyclists will need new ones periodically. So, how can a bicycle manufacturer pre-solve the problem of a blown inner tube in a bicycle tire, rather than merely selling a customer a replacement inner tube after their tire is blown?
The best way to implement this methodology is by conducting what I call a pre-mortem, asking the customer questions and peeling back the layers of their need to discover why they may need a product or service. In doing so, you will uncover that there is far more information available than you initially realize.
When it comes to our cyclist example, a pre-mortem question could be: what is the most inconvenient part about a flat tire? Most will say that a flat tire doesn’t happen when the bicycle is sitting still; it is when they are out riding. Therefore, pre-solving the problem is not necessarily selling them new tires, but a better solution for if and when a flat tire happens.
A pre-mortem is a far more consultative approach than an agile, reactionary post-mortem, where you wait and see what a customer will need.
Another facet of using a pre-mortem to determine what a customer needs is to establish whether the problem they have is actually the real problem they need solved.
Continuing to explore our cyclist example, the real problem in their case is likely not the flat tire and having to buy a new one; it is the inconvenience of being stranded on their ride, especially if they do not have someone to call for a ride back home. That reveals a layer to this sales onion that many bicycle manufacturers or even smaller bicycle shops have never considered.
Now, my Hard Trend Methodology also teaches Anticipatory Leaders to identify Soft Trends, or future maybes that are open to influence. How you solve this newfound problem is a variable, and leveraging digital technology in an exponential way will also facilitate your ability to pre-solve their problem. As a bicycle manufacturer, perhaps you create an app that operates similarly to Uber, but for roadside assistance for cyclists.
Instead of selling customers on simply stocking up on new tires, something they can do through any bicycle shop, you create a new product that solves a problem they didn’t think they needed to have solved, through identifying what their actual problem is.
All of these aforementioned competencies are practiced exclusively by Anticipatory Leaders and Anticipatory Organizations, especially in their sales departments. Limiting your sales of whatever product or service your organization offers to a reactionary mindset, where you wait until a customer has a problem to scramble and provide them a solution, is archaic.
An agile and reactionary sales team would be like a cyclist having to call your manufacturing firm while sitting on the side of a rural road with a flat tire, and for you to essentially reply by saying “that’s unfortunate, we’ll be sure to bring you a tire as soon as we can.” Sure, that solves a problem, but not before your valued customer goes through stress and, thanks to the immediacy of our digitally connected world, contacts your competitor to see what they can do sooner.
When you simply put out fires for your customers, you will always be at the starting line. Anticipation gives you an advantage over your competitors and removes the need for you to benchmark your sales of anything against their numbers.
And remember, sales are not always business-to-customer. A business executive “sells” his or her idea for a new business model to their colleagues. In any sales setting, the more you can use anticipation to pre-solve problems before they occur, the more beneficial the outcome for everyone involved.
Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading futurists on global trends and innovation. The New York Times has referred to him as one of the top three business gurus in the highest demand as a speaker. He is a strategic advisor to executives from Fortune 500 companies, helping them to accelerate innovation and results by develop game-changing strategies based on his proven methodologies for capitalizing on technology innovations and their future impact. His client list includes companies such as Microsoft, GE, American Express, Google, Deloitte, Procter & Gamble, Honda, and IBM. He is the author of seven books, including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller Flash Foresight, and his latest book The Anticipatory Organization. He is a featured writer with millions of monthly readers on the topics of innovation, change and the future and has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Wired, CNBC, and Huffington Post to name a few. He has been the featured subject of several PBS television specials and has appeared on programs such as CNN, Fox Business, and Bloomberg, and is quoted in a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Fortune, and Forbes. He has founded six businesses, four of which were national leaders in the United States in the first year. He is the CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients profit from technological, social and business forces that are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. In 1983 he became the first and only futurist to accurately identify the twenty technologies that would become the driving force of business and economic change for decades to come. He also linked exponential computing advances to economic value creation. His specialties are technology-driven trends, strategic innovation, strategic advising and planning, business keynote presentations.