How to Beat the Shortlist in every Sale

How to Beat the Shortlist in every Sale

Understanding what a Prospect needs may, at best, help you make their shortlist.

But you want to beat the shortlist and win the sale. Right?

Well, Needs Discovery won't help you with that.

Not that I’m suggesting Needs Discovery is unnecessary. Rather, exploring Prospect needs (their 'What?’) is a waste of time until you understand their ‘Why? That is the results a.k.a. value they want.

Here’s why…

Exploring needs is analogous to exploring flight and hotel options before you know the destination (desired result or value). You wouldn’t do that would you?

And that is my point.

It is obvious that we should know our destination before planning a trip, however, it seems it is much less obvious to know our ‘destination’ when buying other things.

Consider for example, a typical RFP, the ultimate needs document. It provides detail on requirements or inputs (the ‘What?) to achieve a desired result or end state but typically precious little insight into what that desired end state should look like (the ‘Why?’). For example, what will the user experience be when everything works desired?

And for the most part, Sellers simply don’t ask for it.

That's crazy because...

Satisfy their needs, and maybe you will make the shortlist.
Nail what they value, and you will definitely win their business.

Value: so much more important than Needs

Here’s the thing, people might have common needs, but their Perceptions of Value (POV) will be different. That is why we don’t all drive the same car, live in the same type of house, or buy the same type of anything. Many of us might have similar needs, but the potential variation in our POV is huge. Infinite in fact.

For example, I may need a 4 bed, 2 bath, 2 cars etc., house near schools in Springwood, but that provides zero insight into which of the many hundreds of properties fitting that description I might buy.

Understanding needs provides us Sellers with little insight into what people will buy.

To understand what people will buy (and thus to become their choice), we need to understand Buyer POV's.

Ultimately there will be just one ‘proposition’ that meets their POV; the one they buy a.k.a. the solution. Any other ‘proposition’ was, by definition, not a solution (not the desired value) otherwise, they would have bought that instead.

We need to know that desired end state.

Here is a way to think about that. Imagine someone walking out of a store and asking them, ‘why did you buy that (insert item)?’ Their answer will be their Perception of Value (POV). The art/science of selling then is to discover what that answer is before they buy something i.e., when they walk into the store.  

And the way to do that is to ask:

What will it be like when…?

That is a typical Value Discovery question, which seeks to answer ‘Why do you want a…? Which compares with the Needs Discovery version of ‘What are you looking for in a…?’

See the difference?

Value-Discovery in Action

If that all sounds a bit abstract, here are a couple of real-life examples of how you might do that. They reflect the BEFORE and AFTER approaches of two value-focused Sellers I have worked with who now enjoy consistent 70% plus win rates. Naturally, I have paraphrased conversations (quite a bit!) in the interests of space:

Industrial Photographer

Incoming lead: ‘Can you give me a price please to take some headshots of our executives’

This initial enquiry invariably comes from an assistant, rather than the Decision Maker/Buyer, as getting quotations is typically seen as a simple admin task.

BEFORE: Needs-based approach.

Seller does a needs discovery to determine how many images are needed, where they will be used, location of the shoot, and so on.

Next step is to email a quote, and 9/10, there is no response.

AFTER: Value-focused approach.

Seller: ‘What are the images to be used for’?

‘Our website.’

Seller: ‘What impression do you want to create when people view them?’


‘What do you mean?’

Seller (value-discovery question): ‘When someone looks at your executives, what impression of you and your company do you want them to form. For example, what style of company are you: formal, informal, laid back, dynamic, approachable, proactive, and so on?’

‘I don’t know, I was just asked to get quotes. And you’re the only person that has asked me that.’

Seller: ‘I see. You can imagine that is important though. A picture is like a thousand words, right? Site visitors will form an impression of your company based on appearances. What impression do you want them to have?

'I don’t know.’

Seller: Who would know?

‘My boss.’

Seller: Can I speak to him/her then, please, as I imagine that s/he is concerned about your corporate image?

Now, 9/10 Seller is referred to the Buyer (who had never thought of being involved) with whom s/he then has a value conversation, which rather than being about the price to take photographs, is about understanding the corporate image the Buyer wants to project and the likely investment to achieve that (desired end-state/value).

Result. Seller only pursues opportunities when referred to the Buyer and win rate is now 9/10 and fees on average 30% higher than previous quoting model. In addition. having formed a connection with the decision-maker, the Seller is first call for any future photography work.

Industrial and Home Security

Incoming lead: ‘Hi, I need a quotation to install a security system, CCTV etc in our workshops’

Typical response is for Seller to perform an initial needs exploration (scoping exercise) and then schedule a site inspection.

BEFORE: Needs-based approach.

Seller arrives on site and arranges tour/inspection to assess risk, scope desired level of security and determine required hardware and related services.

Seller then submits a quotation, most of which do not win business.

AFTER: Value-focused approach.

Seller arrives on site.

Buyer: ‘Let me show you around’

Seller: ‘I don’t need to do a site inspection just yet. Is there somewhere we can sit and have a chat first?’

‘Yes, here is fine.’

Seller: ‘Firstly, can you just give me a brief heads-up on your business’

Buyer responds...

Seller: ‘OK, so when it comes to security, what breaches or threats have you experienced?

Buyer responds...

Seller (value-discovery question): ‘And so, what will being secure feel like to you?

I’m not sure I know what you mean, no one has ever asked me that before.

Seller: Well, imagine you feel secure, what will you not be worrying about?

Oh, I see, well when I’m not here I won’t be worried about staff pilfering tools or stores, or about break and enters. And my guys will feel safe leaving their own toolboxes open. When anyone works back late, they won’t be worried about people sneaking in….and so on (desired end-state/value).

Seller: OK, that makes sense. How would that make you feel?

Well, I won’t spend so much time keeping an eye on things, wondering what is happening behind my back. I’ll be able to sleep nights knowing I’m protected

Seller: OK, so how about we take a look around, assess the risks, and discuss what it will take for you to feel that way?

The Buyer is now fully engaged and feels the Seller understands him/her (as no other Seller has cared to have that conversation) and is keen to collaborate with the Seller to explore how to achieve the outcome they discussed. They collaborate to model the Buyer’s solution including cost estimates.

At the end of the exercise, Buyers say, ‘looks good, let’s go ahead with that’

Result: Often as not, the Buyer does not expect a quotation and instead accepts a verbal estimate. Seller then invoices at a rate that equates to the estimate.

Seller only pursues opportunities where s/he can engage Buyers in a value conversation and 9/10 wins the sale, and at 20-30% higher margins than the previous quoting model. Is also winning much larger jobs. 


Value-focused Sellers:

  • Only pursue opportunities where they can engage in value conversations with Buyers i.e., they do not provide ‘unqualified’ quotations.
  • Having established desired value, collaborate with Buyers to ‘invent’ their i.e. the Buyer's solution (as opposed to the Seller's product/service), which includes a cost budget.
  • Submit offers (not quotations) confirming agreed scope and costing.
  • Close the sale on agreed terms. No need for negotiation.