leadsvsoppsI saw this quote the other day from Ken Blanchard’s classic “The One-Minute Manager.

“If you can’t tell me what you’d like to be happening, you don’t have a problem yet. You’re just complaining. A problem only exists if there is a difference between what is actually happening and what you desire to be happening.”

Though this quote does not come from a sales context, I think this idea can also apply in the early stages of sales situations when we are trying to figure out if we have a lead or an opportunity on our hands. A lot of times sellers (especially inexperienced sellers) struggle to understand if they are dealing with a lead or an opportunity.  When we can’t be sure what we are dealing with, we end up guessing, which leads to wasted effort. Consider this, if you are talking to someone that can only articulate a problem, they are probably just a lead. They become an opportunity when they can tell you what their problem is (how things are now), how they want things to be in the future, and they have the means and intent to take action. Here are a couple of actionable steps you can take to help yourself and your prospects in these situations:

  • When someone is talking about a problem but not describing their desired future state, ask them what they want that future state to be. If they have trouble articulating it, you can add value by offering examples from other experiences you have had about what kind of outcomes might be attainable by solving their problem. This type of activity is part of being consultative. It will enhance your standing with the prospect and help your chances of winning the deal.  If you can’t help your prospect move from talking about problems to thinking about potential outcomes, you may need to move on for a while. Keep in contact though, their pain may intensify to the point that they make the transition by themselves. Be mindful that you will encounter some people with many complaints that never take action. Be careful of these people as they will just waste your time.
  • Beware of offering solutions too early in your engagement. Avoid making a proposal before the prospect is able to articulate what they want the future to be like. Think about it, isn’t that what your proposal should be – a statement about how you are going to solve the prospect’s problem and create a better future state as a result of that solution? Note that it can be a little uncomfortable for prospects to talk about what they want the future to look like, but that’s okay. It’s our job as sellers to help them through this exercise. You have to dig in here. This is another example of being consultative. One of my favorite ways to explore this desired future-state issue is to ask, “In order for you to look back a year from now and say that you have made a great decision regarding a solution to this problem, what has to be different in your environment as compared to now?”

Think about this concept and use these tips to help you keep your footing in the early part of a deal when you are trying to distinguish a lead from an opportunity.

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