Let’s just forget about selling for a moment. Or even that someone is buying something. What’s really happening is there are millions of “solution scenarios” playing out every minute of every day, all over the world, whether you participate or not. If you participate successfully, you will be successful. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s that simple.
Solution Scenarios – and how they play out
Someone needs something, or wants something. They have an itch that needs to be scratched.
They put “solving this problem” on their list of things to do, and they start taking care of it. They start to educate themselves about their options. They ask around. They go online. They visit sites and stores. They interview possible vendors, if it is a service.
During this education phase, they are in Research Mode. At this stage, they will not make a decision; they’re not ready yet. No amount of “selling” will convince them at this stage, and if someone does try to convince them, it won’t work. In fact, it will backfire. The Scenario person will become irritated and will be repelled to the point where they will decide to avoid that seller, if possible, as they continue to research their options.
Finally they decide: I’m going to take this approach. I’m going to try to solve my problem this way. Now they are in Decision Mode.
Now they’d like to make a decision as efficiently as possible, so they can get this resolved and move on to other things. The types of information they look for in Decision Mode – the questions and concerns they have – are completely different than the questions and concerns they have when they are in Research Mode.
Now, again, let’s stop thinking of ourselves as sellers, but as people with a possible solution to this person’s problem. How and when can we fit into their Solution Scenario? At what point will they come looking – either in Research Mode or Decision Mode – and what will they need from us at that point? What are their concerns and questions? What information will address those concerns and answer those questions – to their satisfaction?
It’s not enough to just plaster our sites with blah-blah or arm our salespeople with blah-blah. We need to succeed in providing just the right kind of information in the right way at the right time. We need to fit into this Solution Scenario.
How to fit into someone’s Solution Scenario
You need to know – not guess – the different ways they’d either search for you or come across you. These are the scenarios that play out as someone is researching or deciding on your product or service.
You should make a list of these scenarios, based on your interactions with buyers and your phone interviews of people who have bought from you (as crazy as it sounds, once someone has bought from you, he or she will be happy to help you understand their motivation, their frame of mind, and their questions and concerns).
For example, if you were selling a consulting service, here are some of the scenarios:
- You meet a person at a tradeshow. You talk briefly and exchange cards. After the show, you send an email to the person to follow up, because your conversation convinced you that they might be in the market for what you provide. The person gets your email, is reminded of your conversation, thinks, “That wasn’t bad, he seemed like a nice guy who had his act together.” The buyer goes to your website. He wants to see if your site is also a class act. It is, so he pops over to the About section and scans through your bio, then goes to your blog and scans through the article topics. One of them addresses one of the questions he’s been asking himself and others. He reads the article and decides he is willing to continue to talk to you. He answers your email.
- You’ve published a book or a guide. Someone reads it and thinks, “My friend Bob is looking for information about this. I’ll send him a link [to the book or guide].” Bob gets it, reads it, and finds it helpful. He goes to your LinkedIn profile and likes what he sees. He goes to your site, sees that it is professional and straightforward, and sees some pages or posts that are also helpful. He contacts you.
- You give a speech. One of the people in the audience is struck by something you say, and she comes up after the speech and talks to you about it. Later that night, she goes to your website and likes what she sees. She decides to contact you.
- Someone has a problem that you can solve. He goes online and searches for “[what you sell] consulting companies near me,” because he wants to work with a local firm. You come up on the first page along with several others. Your firm has reviews; most don’t. She reads the reviews and decides you’re worth investigating further.
We could go on, but you’re getting the idea. These are the situations you know about because you (or your site or your salespeople) have participated in some way with the customer as he or she is playing out their Situation Scenario. At some moment, there was an interaction, and you got to participate.
Why did you get to participate? Because you made yourself available and accessible to the buyer at that moment.
Now, let’s focus on the last bullet, the one where the person goes online and searches for what you sell, and in a certain way. This is the part of our scenario story that is the least understood, and is screwed up by almost everyone. The few who do get it right tend to run away with the market while their competitors barely scrape along.
This last part – being “found” online by those searching for your solution – is poorly understood because it’s intentionally shrouded in BS and mystery. Those who make a living providing search engine optimization services don’t want you to know how it really works. The more clueless or confused you are, the more money they can make off of you. It’s a good deal for them and a terrible deal for you. We personally think it’s criminal.
The truth is, it’s not impossible to succeed at the whole search engine / content marketing effort. It does take a lot of work and time; it has to be done right; but it definitely can be done.
You start by realizing that your success will come from fitting into their Solution Scenario. It doesn’t matter what you think they’re thinking or how you think they look for you or the questions you think they have. You have to know.
You can know by interviewing them, by looking online at how they search for your type of solution, by how they are finding the solutions that your competitors sell, and by looking at the information they share with each other.
But that’s just the people side of the picture. There’s another side – a robot named Google. Google is an integral part of every Solution Scenario now, and serves as a gateway or a roadblock to those human beings who are so important to your business.
Google also has requirements. Just like a human, Google is looking at you with a critical eye, testing. “Do they have a map on their Contact page? Is their content properly optimized, so I know exactly how to categorize them and when to serve them up? Is their site constantly refreshed with new content and free from “page not found” errors? Is the site fast? Is it mobile-solid? Are there other reputable sites linking to this site? Are they listed in all the important directories? Are they consistent in their content, so I have no doubt as to what they sell and what makes them special? (By the way, this is the test that almost everyone flunks – they focus too much on individual key words rather than remembering that Goolgle needs a Big Fat Clue about who you are, what you offer, and what makes you special.)
None of this – what your people need and what the robot needs – has to be a mystery. There are tools and methods that strip all the mystery away and provide you with the facts. That make it possible for you to market and sell with confidence, knowing that what you are doing is going to move you in the right direction, putting you in the right places at the right times with the right information, in the Solution Scenarios that matter to you – and result in revenue for you.
That’s how selling works now. Note how little it has to do with “selling” in the classical sense. That’s the old world. We are in a completely new world now, and your success will come from your ability to support those Solution Scenarios as they take place.