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The Secret of Outcome-Based Selling? Pitch the Future, Not a Product

Person on a chart with pulling an arrow from the red to the green in outcome based selling
An outcome-based approach to selling requires you to ask high-impact questions that get to the root of your customer’s desires. [Studio Science]

Learn how to create lasting customer relationships — and close more deals — by creating better outcomes.

Outcome-based selling is a little like selling a vision of the future. It’s about listening to what your customer wants to achieve and framing your offer as the thing that helps them do it.

Knowing what your customers want isn’t always as simple as asking, “What are your business goals?” To get a full picture of what they hope to accomplish and what’s standing in their way, you have to dig a little deeper. That’s where outcome-based selling comes in; learn how to use it help your buyers envision a better future.

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What is outcome-based selling?

Outcome-based selling is a sales strategy that prioritizes a customer’s needs and desired outcomes, using this as the lens for most — if not all — sales tactics in the sales process. In this way, you can paint a picture of a long-term outcome your offer helps them achieve. It differs from product-based selling, where a seller leads with their offering’s unique specifications and immediate benefits.

An outcome-based approach to selling requires you to ask high-impact questions that get to the root of your customer’s challenges and make them feel understood. It also requires you to stay connected as the solution is implemented and work to make sure the outcomes you promised are achieved.

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How is outcome-based selling different from solution selling?

While both approaches require getting to the heart of your customer’s goals and pain points, outcome-based selling focuses on showing your customer how your product can help them achieve their business goals.

Solution selling, on the other hand, focuses more on solving a problem — often a very specific one. In some cases, solution selling can involve a level of customization that benefits the customer more than it does your business.

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Why is outcome based selling important and what are the benefits?

Outcome-based selling focuses on helping customers hit their goals. This engenders trust, which makes it easier for prospects to sign on the dotted line. This trust component is not new to the sales space; our State of Sales report found that 87% of business buyers expect reps to act as trusted advisors.

If your customers see you as an authority and a support — someone they can rely on to help them achieve their business goals, even if it doesn’t mean a sale — they’re more likely to trust you when it comes time to pitch your product. It also opens the door to upselling opportunities and referrals throughout the relationship that lead to more leads.

Here are three benefits of outcome based selling:

  • Increased deal value: When you listen to your customer and gain their trust, you may uncover additional selling opportunities in the process.
  • Increased sales velocity: When you focus on outcomes — and trust — buyers are more likely to give you answers to high-impact questions that can reveal critical deal information early in the sales process. This may help you advance a lead more quickly through the sales cycle.
  • Long-term relationships and future deals: Showing that you’re invested in your customers’ success can help them view you as a trusted advisor. This trust can strengthen the relationship and lead to future sales opportunities and referrals.

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What are some challenges of outcome-based selling?

While there are many benefits to this sales approach, there are also some notable challenges:

  • Longer time commitment: To get to the heart of a prospect’s challenges and desired outcomes, you have to go beyond a quick email exchange or phone call. You must spend the time it takes to understand business goals, which may require multiple, in-person meetings, visiting a business, and speaking with other stakeholders. It’s hard to estimate how long this process might take, and it will vary from customer to customer.
  • Additional training: If your reps are used to a product-based selling approach, it can take time for them to adjust to a more customer and outcome-oriented mindset. You must have the resources and coaching available for them to succeed. Even then, it can take time for reps to get comfortable with another selling approach.

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How to use an outcome-based selling approach (with an example)

To understand the process of outcome based selling, let’s walk through a sale with La Familia Panaderia, a local bakery.

A neighborhood staple, the Panaderia has been owned and operated by the Lopez family for generations. After recently gaining popularity on social media, they added a second production location and expanded their staff from eight to 30.

Their off-the-shelf bookkeeping software was good enough to deal with payroll and invoicing for the original location, but the new accounting demands have owner Daniela Lopez frantically researching more robust small business accounting software.

Here’s how you might use outcome based selling to help:

1. Ask open-ended questions to understand the problem

To get to the root of Daniela’s concerns, ask open-ended questions like “What hasn’t been working as well since your expansion?” “What could help make things run more smoothly?” and “What’s your biggest goal for the year ahead?” You want to understand what needs to change for her growing business to succeed.

Answers to your questions would reveal primary concerns, including:

  • Timely payroll and invoicing: She wants to make sure her staff are always paid accurately and on time and that invoices are sent out, logged, and tracked automatically.
  • Lack of comfort with new technology: Daniela is worried that she won’t be able to keep as close an eye on her finances as she did when she was doing everything manually.
  • Learning curve: As much as she knows she needs a more efficient system, Daniela is worried about how long it will take for her to learn how to use the new software.

Ultimately, you learn that Daniela wants speed, accuracy, and peace of mind. Now, you need to frame your product as the perfect way to achieve those outcomes.

2. Offer a solution that creates the desired outcomes

Now that you understand Daniela’s desired outcomes and concerns, you can frame your product in a way that solves her immediate challenges and eases her mind for the future of her business. It’s time to make the sale, so you talk through her concerns and focus on her desired outcomes:

  • You highlight your software’s built-in payroll feature. It can automate payroll and invoices and keep a detailed transaction history, making bookkeeping a breeze.
  • You explain how your software will make it easier than ever for her to keep an eye on her finances because she can log, organize, and track everything in one place. She can even set up notifications to alert her whenever payroll is initiated or invoices are paid.
  • Next, you walk Daniela through a quick demo of your software. You highlight its user-friendliness and show her how to handle some of her most common activities. You also let her know that you have a 24/7 customer support team that can assist her with any issues that may come up after implementation.

3. Close the deal

By the end of the conversation, Daniela can truly envision a brighter future. She sees how your software will help her operations run smoothly so she can focus on what her business does best — making delicious food.

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3 tips for successful outcome-based selling

If you’re new to this approach, here are some things to keep in mind:

Be a trusted advisor

Go into customer conversations with a consultative mindset. Instead of thinking about what you’re selling, think about how you’re going to help them achieve their most important goals. This way, you can tailor your pitch in a way that provides desired outcomes.

Ask the right questions

Ask open-ended questions that let emotions and nuance into the conversation. Instead of asking “Is accounting a challenge for you?” (a yes/no question), ask “What’s disrupting your workflow?” or “What would make your life easier?” Always be actively listening for opportunities to dig deeper with follow-up questions.

Practice articulating value

How does your product help achieve the buyer’s desired outcomes? Instead of broadly stating that your software can help them manage their accounting processes, point to specific pain points they’ve already mentioned and outcomes they want. Be prepared to provide case studies and data that support your claims so prospects have something concrete on which to base their decision.

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Put yourself in your customer’s shoes

Outcome-based selling is only successful when you put your customer first. And it can take time, patience, and understanding. But, if you concentrate on the desired outcomes that your product can help solve, you can create long-term customers who trust you and value your partnership.

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Anita Nielsen headshot
Anita Nielsen President - LDK Advisory Services

Anita Nielsen is the President of LDK Advisory Services. She offers customized sales coaching that creates sustainable success for her clients. Anita is also a sales performance coach for the Forbes Coaches Council and advisory board member for the National Association of Women in Sales. She holds an MBA from the New York Institute of Technology.

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