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CHAPTER 5

Proposing a Remedy—

The Solution Phase

Up until now, you have focused on creating rapport with

your prospect, finding his or her pain, and measuring

the intensity of that pain. Now it is time to help your

prospect describe the solution he or she truly wants. That

is another key strength and difference of The Wedge as

opposed to traditional selling. You are not going to offer

your prospect a solution and ask him or her to accept it. Instead,

you are going to help your prospect propose the solution,

and get your prospect to decide what to do to make

it happen.

Step 3: Vision Box

It should come as no surprise that prospects, like many

salespeople, have trouble expressing exactly what they want.

Prospects also define what they want with terms such as

“competitive prices” and “consistent quality.” In their own

business, they, too, are “dedicated to excellence” and have

“strategies for growth.” Your challenge will be to help your

prospects move down the ladder of abstraction and describe

the details of their vision.

A vision is an endless sort of thing. It suggests peering

into the heavens and contemplating perfection. During the

VISION BOX step, you are going to educe from your

prospects the details that give reality to their vision, drawing

out of them the specific, concrete things that they really

want to happen.

Let me ask you this: If you leave a sales call without

knowing exactly what your prospect wants—the what, how,

who, when, where, and why of it—can you deliver it to the

prospect? Of course you can’t. And if the prospect doesn’t

spell it out for you, can you develop a proposal that gives

them what they want? Obviously not. You would come

away from that sales call with neither of you certain about

the particulars. It happens more than it should. The salesperson

returns to the prospect after the initial meeting,

bringing along a proposal based on guesses and assumptions.

The two of them go through the prospect’s objections

and make changes, and the selling process gets

prolonged much more than it needs to be.

The VISION BOX step will enable you to shorten the

time it takes for you and your prospect to get in sync on

the solution. You are going to help your prospects take

their vision, and then box that vision as a deliverable.

What is in the box? It contains a precise description of

people, places, and things from the real world—physical

objects and specific actions, a picture in sharp focus that

your prospect can visualize rather than merely generally

grasp as a concept. It has no abstractions. It consists of

deliverables.

Imagine a couple asking a travel agent to plan their

ideal vacation for them. They may see themselves on a

warm, sandy beach in the Virgin Islands, located near

recreational facilities to enjoy while they are there. But as

soon as the agent starts planning for their vision, all sorts

of details arise. What are the dates? What about plane

reservations? What kind of lodging do they want? How

will they get around while they are there?

When I’m conducting workshops, I often ask my audience

to divide up into pairs and plan each partner’s ideal

vacation. I tell them to ask all the questions they can think

of so that they can book a trip for their partner with no

more questions. It usually takes about 15 minutes for them

to accomplish their task. One day, however, one of my

workshop participants was done in 60 seconds.

“How did you finish so quickly?” I asked him.

“It was easy,” he said. “My partner simply wanted to

go to a beach in Florida.”

If you look at a map of Florida, you will notice that

there are nearly 1,200 miles of coastline starting in the west

at Pensacola, dipping south past Tampa and Fort Myers,

down into the Keys, and from there up to Miami and north

back up the Atlantic coast to Jacksonville. You may have an

ideal vision of a beach in Florida, but if that is the only

thing you ask for without specifying anything further, you

could wind up surrounded by a marsh or sharing your

space with alligators.

So you will begin the VISION BOX step with our next

conversational phrase:

“In regard to [area of concern], what would you like to

see happen?”

Even after you have put it this way, your prospect will

almost always respond at first with something vague and

undefined. From this starting point, you will need to follow

up with specific questions that prompt the prospect to

home in on precisely what he or she is trying to change.

Your prospects at this point will know they are dissatisfied.

They may think about such things as “faster service” or

“more technical support,” but those goals mean nothing

until the specific outcomes they represent are pinned down

in concrete language.

To get your prospect to fill in the box and define the

solution he or she wants, you can ask these six questions:

1. What?

What would you like to have happen? What is

the practical result you want in concrete terms?

2. How?

How should the result be achieved? What does

the process look like? What are the means it will

take?

3. Who?

Whom do you see involved from your company?

Who else? What will their roles be?

4. When?

When do you want it? Immediately? Ninety days

from now? What will happen at what point?

5. Where?

Where will it be handled? At your service center?

Corporate headquarters? Branch offices?

6. Why?

Why is it important? What makes it a priority?

Why do you value it?

Your task in asking these questions is to elicit concrete

language and images from your prospect that describe precisely

what he or she expects to happen. Without such a

graphic depiction, you will not know for certain what your

prospect wants from you. Educated guesses are no substitute.

Some salespeople and their prospects too easily fall

into the trap of wishful thinking. They start to feel a bond,

they begin nodding in agreement with each other, and soon

they find themselves talking each other into doing business

without filling in the details. As then President Ronald Reagan

said after one of his summit meetings with then Soviet

President Mikhail Gorbachev, “Trust, but verify.” Or, to

quote another short and wise motto: Never assume.

The VISION BOX is a much more powerful offer than the

boilerplate in your company’s shell proposals. By educing

what the prospects want, you have gotten them to convey in

their own terms how they want to be served. The proposal

that results will be what they expect, not a first draft that

sidetracks you into having to overcome objections.

For example, imagine you are a wholesaler talking to an

appliance retailer whose current supplier has been inconsistent

in the timely delivery of dryers that, as a result, dwindle

and go out of stock. You ask your prospect, “In regard to dryer

delivery, what would you like to see happen?” And your prospect

replies, “I want dryers in our stores when we need them.”

No doubt your competition promised your prospect

that very result. If you left the discussion there, you would

be making the same promise. If you did that, you would be

offering nothing new. You would have nothing to sell. So

you are going to use the questions of the VISION BOX to

drill down and get your prospect to describe the better

process that will get better results:

Seller: “What would you like to have happen?”

Prospect: “We want no more than a five-day turnaround

from the day we place an order.”

Seller: “Order what exactly?”

Prospect: “Blazing Heat and Desert Air dryers have

been the problem.”

Seller: “How would you like them shipped?”

Prospect: “By using the least expensive shipping with a

five-day guarantee.”

Seller: “Who will be involved from your company?”

Prospect: “Each store manager will notify our buyer,

who will contact the wholesaler.”

Seller: “When would you like to set all this up?”

Prospect: “Within the next 30 days.”

Seller: “Where will it be handled in your company’s

organization?”

Prospect: “Each store manager will be responsible for

reporting low inventory?”

Seller: “What do you mean by ‘low’?”

Prospect: “When we have no more than a dozen Blazing

Heat dryers or two dozen Desert Air dryers

in stock.”

Seller: “Why again is this so critical among all your inventory

needs?”

Prospect: “We don’t want to lose any more customers

over this, and those two brands have been the

problem.”

At times, your prospects may tell you that they do

not really know what they want. It may be tough to get

them to start talking. When this happens, a third-party

story can be helpful. Describe for them a similar situation

where a prospect had trouble drilling down into the details, and how by your asking questions the prospect’s

specific needs came into focus. But be sure to relate it to

your prospect and what he or she wants, not merely to

recite it as a third-party story. Your conversation might

go something like this:

Seller: “So in regard to what we discussed, what would

you like to see happen?”

Prospect: “I don’t know.”

Seller: “That’s not unusual. I had a client in a similar

situation to yours. His retail outlet sold home theater

equipment. So I started asking him questions

about his operation to get him going. This helped

him focus, so he could get into the details of what

he wanted. I’d ask him what he wanted to happen,

who would need to do what, and so on. Does this

make sense for you as a way we can get into this?”

If you had merely told your prospect the story and

talked about yourself, he or she would have started to tune

out and shut down. Instead, you related it to your prospect,

and kept the focus on his or her situation.

Finally, after your prospects have defined the deliverables

that go in the VISION BOX, it is a good idea to ask one

last time before moving on, “Anything else?” This prompts

your prospects to think back over what they have just told

you. Often, they will come up with an important point

skipped over.

There is another reason to get your prospect to be as

clear-cut as possible. In most businesses and industries, you

can predict with reasonable accuracy that your rivals offer

the same kinds of services and products you do. They just

have not made the extra effort to find out which ones matter

most to your prospect. If your competition had done so,

you would have discovered less pain. As a result, driving

The Wedge would have been considerably more difficult if

not essentially impossible.

Now you have a clear vision of what your prospect

wants. You have almost completed the Solution Phase, but

there is one more step.

Step 4: Replay

The REPLAY is your repeating back to the prospect what

you understand it is that he or she wants. To do this, you

will use our next conversational snippet:

“Here’s what I’m hearing you say you want. [Repeat what

the prospect said] Have I got that right?”

As applied to our example, you will say to the retailer:

“Here’s what I’m hearing you say you want. You want

guaranteed five-day turnaround on Blazing Heat and

Desert Air dryers with the least expensive shipping. Each of

your store managers would be responsible for notifying your

buyer of low inventory when you’re down to 12 Blazing

Heat or 24 Desert Air dryers, and your buyer would contact

the wholesaler and order a dozen of either or both that become

low. You’d like to fix this within the next 30 days and

not have any more customers who can’t get what they expect

when they visit one of your stores. Have I got that right?” This may seem simplistic, even superfluous. But there

are three strategic reasons for the REPLAY.

First, notice how you told the prospect you were

hearing what “you say you want.” By using the pronoun

you, you are confirming that the VISION BOX is the

prospect’s solution. Also notice that you used the word

want. When people want something, they will take action

to get it. If they are merely interested, they will defer action

or not act at all.

Second, by using the REPLAY, you are sending your

prospect an important signal that you know how to listen.

You understand your prospect’s concern, and you are

speaking in his or her language to address it. This helps solidify

the bond of comfort, credibility, and trust that you

have begun building with your prospect.

Third, remember how the TAKE AWAY helped to reinforce

the prospect’s desire for the PICTURE PERFECT? The

REPLAY works in the same way to reinforce the VISION BOX,

and it shifts the dialogue in your favor. When you play

back to prospects what they have just told you they want,

you are positioning yourself as the person to provide it.

This is a subtle but important transition. You have begun

to establish yourself in the prospect’s mind as the person

who can deliver the solution. Yet, you have not once offered

to handle the account. Using The Wedge rather than

traditional selling, you have confidently laid the groundwork

for your prospect to do the right thing.

During the VISION BOX and the REPLAY, you may be

tempted to talk about what you can do for your prospect.

When you know your capabilities, and when you hear your

prospect spelling out a need that you can meet and then

some, your inclination may be to jump right in and start

touting all your strengths. We all remember the kid in our

fourth-grade class who always knew the answer to a question

the teacher had just asked, the one who frantically

waved his hand and said, “Pick me. Pick me.”

Whatever you do during the Solution Phase, it is

important to stay away from the words I and me. If you

lapse into promoting yourself and your company at this

critical juncture, your prospect will take a step backward

psychologically from making a commitment. Prospects

begin to talk less when they feel the pressure of a salesperson’s

self-promotion. If you start speaking in the first

person, it will create a moment of discomfort, and your

prospect will begin to feel as if he or she is losing control

of the conversation.

As I mentioned earlier, it is helpful to think of your

prospect as a personal friend, rather than as the other

party in a buyer-seller relationship. Imagine, for example,

that a friend of yours wants to have a swimming pool put

in his backyard, and you happen to be in the business. Because

you and he are friends, you share his excitement

over his plans. However, you are not going to make a presentation

to him of your services. Instead, you and he start

talking about his vision for the pool. He wants a kidneyshaped,

heated concrete pool with a diving board at the

deep end. You start asking him questions to bring his vision

into clearer focus. Everything is going fine, and you

are enjoying a relaxing exchange of ideas and suggestions.

What if you were to blurt out, “Pete, I’d love to build this

pool for you. Can I give you an estimate?” At that moment,

you and Pete would stop conversing freely. You and he would become a seller and buyer in a negotiation. Pete

would stop telling you what he really wants. He would

start talking about what he can afford. Your conversation

would get more stilted, and you and he would no longer

be talking excitedly about his dream.

The Wedge Sales Call is designed to create an atmosphere

in which your prospect can talk to you as if he or she

were talking to a friend. Not once have you asked for the

business. Your focus has been on listening, and subtly guiding

your prospect from step to step in his or her process of

self-discovery. When your prospects see you as the person

who can take them from where they are to where they want

to be, they will ask you in—and when you are being asked,

you have all the power.

The Conversation

You and your prospect have used the VISION BOX and the

REPLAY to agree on exactly what he or she wants. Here are

the four key phrases you have used so far on your way to

winning the business:

PICTURE PERFECT: “I’m curious. When you receive [a

specific service] so that you don’t have to worry

about [a specific pain], are you comfortable with

that process?”

TAKE AWAY: “Well, perhaps it’s not that important because

[insert a reason].”

VISION BOX: “In regard to [area of concern], what would

you like to see happen?”

REPLAY: “Here’s what I’m hearing you say you want. [Repeat

what the prospect said.] Have I got that right?”

By getting your prospects to clearly and concretely

describe what they want, by helping them identify the deliverables

that go in the VISION BOX, and by giving them a

REPLAY to confirm that you and they share the same, specific

image of the remedy to their pain, you have effectively

completed the Solution Phase.

The next chapter shows you how to get your prospects

to invite you to do business with them. Instead of pushing

them to shake hands and call it a deal, you are going to encourage

them to take the initiative. And when they do, you

are going to step into the space you have created by driving

The Wedge between your prospects and your competition.

You are going to take the final step to get your competition

fired—either from the account or from consideration for

it—without saying anything bad about them.