What are False Positives?
As a term often used in the medical community, a False Positive is defined in the Medical Dictionary as, ‘A result that indicates that a given condition is present when it is not. An example of a false positive would be if a particular test designed to detect cancer returns a positive result but the person does not have cancer.’
In sales, when prospects self-diagnose and present a symptom as the issue, this is a false positive. As a general rule of thumb, the earlier they surface in the discussion, especially when unsolicited, the greater the likelihood you are dealing with the symptoms, not the root cause.
Beware of the Trap
As research from CEB and others have shown, customers are deep into the purchasing process before they choose to engage a sales person. For all intents and purposes, consider this as the customer’s process of self-diagnosis.
The problem comes when rep’s respond to issues raised as if it is the root cause, without recognizing it is a false positive. Doing so will derail your conversation rather quickly, and will likely result in introducing products or solutions prematurely, as if that is the cure. It is not, however. It is a trap, that both parties enter into unwittingly all too often.
Here is an example of how it might look:
Customer: “We are struggling with [insert problem], and are looking for a product to solve that.”
Rep: “Our products have been designed to solve exactly that and are rated #1 in customer satisfaction!”
Implications of Pursuing False Positives
The example above shows just how quickly conversations can go to product or solution. The prospect demonstrates what appears to be ‘pain’ and points specifically to something the rep’s product can solve. Why not proceed?
- The rep would likely be solving the wrong problem
- The rest of the conversation will center around the product’s features and benefits, leading to price
In the example above, the prospect is framing the discussion to be about product. It is all too easy to answer the prospect’s questions, which will continue to keep the focus on product features, benefits and price.
Some reps will be excited by the interest shown and are just positive the prospect will choose them over their competitors. Chances are, the prospect will see all the differences pointed out as similar [enough] to the competitor’s products, therefore it is simply a matter of best price.
This, from my perspective, is a disastrous conversation which could have been prevented by identifying the false positive, and reframing the prospect’s original premise into a new way of thinking about the issues they are really struggling with.
How to Identify False Positives
It is said that when the FBI trains agents to identify counterfeit money, they begin with and focus primarily on what genuine bills look like. As a result, agents are quickly able to identify counterfeit money because they know the identifying characteristics of authentic bills. To train otherwise would require knowing the characteristics of every counterfeiter. Impossible!
Now consider the sales professional. Customers present endless combinations of characteristics of their issues, many of which are ‘counterfeit,’ or not the real issue. Sales professionals have been trained for years to dig for customer’s pain points, but if you don’t know what you are looking for, there are two resulting problems:
- Anything resembling “pain” will lead reps to believe they have successfully uncovered the problem
- Exploratory digging for pain, when you don’t know what you’re looking for, is cruel to prospects
Responding to false positives as true positives, shows itself in close rates. So how can you tell if what they are surfacing is the real deal – a True Positive? The answer is simple, but not easy.
In the example of detecting counterfeits, there is a standard (i.e., the genuine bill), by which counterfeit bills are held up to. Anything that doesn’t match the genuine bill stands in stark contrast.
When it comes to customers using your unique product offering or solution, what does genuine or authentic look like? Be careful not to focus on product or solution, but rather the customer relative to your product or solution.
Customers that use your product/solution should function differently…uniquely…optimally from those that don’t. Understanding in what ways, and what are the characteristics of ‘genuine’ or ‘authenticity’ in your organization will be critical.
This is the part that isn’t easy. It requires investment of time by you and your organization, cross-departmentally, to determine these answers.
The investment of time in this area is well worth the effort as it will change the trajectory of your next conversation.
Jeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.