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SOAP: it’s not just for bathing February 6, 2012

Posted by Lane Savage in management, sales, Uncategorized.
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“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses – not zebras.” Aspiring physicians have been learning this offshoot of Occam’s razor for as long as there have been medical schools to teach them. Don’t know the razor? It boils down to this: when you have multiple explanations for a problem, the simplest solution is usually the best. So forget Miller Heiman. Tear up your blue sheets. Stop looking for red flags. You can teach your sales team to wield Occam’s razor like a surgeon does a scalpel. It’s called SOAP, and it’s not just for bathing.

First, a confession: I’ve spent more than 20 years preaching the virtues of the consultative sale. Because it works. Sales teams that get it right build better relationships with clients, bring home bigger deals and win more repeat business. Trouble is, not many get it right. And they never will. Because most salespeople simply can’t do it.

Here’s the rub: solution selling requires the salesperson to think. To be a businessperson, not just a pitchman. To turn the table and change his perspective. That’s a lot to ask of the average rep, who’s too often little more than a life support system for a PowerPoint deck prepared by product marketing. Asking open-ended “high gain” questions, listening actively, responding on the fly to deviations from the script, engineering agreement: it takes more moxie than most reps can muster. And most reps are average (yes, even yours). So they ditch the process, cut to the chase and ‘show up & throw up’ (all over the prospect). And fail. Frustrating, isn’t it?

Chances are, your solution selling process has more steps than the Washington Monument. It may look simple in theory, but it’s a Rubik’s Cube in practice. That’s why reps won’t follow it. They need something simple. They need SOAP. And you already know how it works. Remember the medical student? When he sees a patient, he follows a script. Chances are, your doctor does, too. See if this sounds familiar:

Subjective: “So, Mr. Savage, what brings you in today? What seems to be the problem?” Ask your customer to tell you their problems. Listen to their response.

Objective: “Okay, got it. Now, let’s do an exam, then draw some blood and run a few tests.” Walk around the prospect’s office, interview employees, pick up an org chart. Have your pre-sales team do an ROI analysis. Run the numbers. What do they tell you?

Assessment: “So here’s where we are: your glands are swollen, your throat is red, and your lab test is positive. You’ve got strep throat.” Combine your buyer’s description of his own problems with the findings of your technical team (and your own observations). Put the two together and you’re halfway home.

Plan: “Treated promptly, your condition isn’t serious. Left to itself, complications are inevitable. Let’s start you on some antibiotics today.” Propose your solution, close the deal, collect the commission.

Simplistic, you say? Sure it is. But why make selling harder than it has to be? Think horses, not zebras.

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