Not everything in business should be compared to a battle, but there are moments -- launching a company, venturing into new markets, dealing with unexpected competition -- where a SWOT analysis tends to be one of the most common tactics to fight your way to victory.
Though the origins of this strategic planning technique are not entirely known, SWOT analysis is a way of looking at the challenges or situation facing an organization that takes into account its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (or SWOT). By delving deep into each of these areas, a company can ideally build on its strengths, transcend its weaknesses, pursue opportunities successfully while mitigating the various threats that may emerge along the way.
If you’ve ever been involved in a SWOT analysis exercise at work before, it was probably an internal discussion, with the possible exception of consultants who might have been brought in to facilitate and guide the process. It’s not really commonplace for outsiders to conduct a SWOT analysis on someone else, but for sales reps, it might be a compelling way to go further than a pitch based purely on your own firm’s products and services.
Think about it: the goal of any sales pro is to develop a close rapport with their customers and prospects. Buyers are well aware that sales teams have their own agenda, but the best sellers manage to demonstrate genuine empathy for their clients that makes the advice they offer more credible, and ultimately ensures valuable results based upon what they sell.
The other advantage is that SWOT analysis may be a familiar concept to a wide range of business professionals. So regardless of the size and composition of your account’s buying team, you’ll be talking to them in a way that immediately catches their attention and positions your pitch in a highly accessible manner.
What does this actually look like in practice, you ask? Read on as we walk through each area -- from the customer’s perspective.
It might seem ridiculous, a waste of time or too patronizing to extol the virtues of the organization you’re trying to sell. In many traditional sales conversations, however, a rep might be guilty of attempting to convince a buyer that they need a product to solve a pain point that they simply don’t have.
Instead, opening your meeting with a discussion about the customer’s strengths will accomplish a few things. First, you’ll show you’ve done your homework by digging though the relevant data in a CRM like Sales Cloud that reflects the relationship your firm has had with the customer to date, and how well you understand their goals and objectives. After all, few organizations will try to grow in an area where they don’t believe they are strong. This part of the conversation will show you’re on the same page.
Talking about strengths is also a way to open up the conversation to fact-check or update the data you’ve used. If anyone in the room disagrees with how you’ve described their strengths, that can tell you a lot about the range of things they might need to regain their footing in some way.
Finally, talking about your understanding of the customer’s strengths could let you subtly reference the strengths of your own organization -- showing why you’re an ideal firm with which to partner as a vendor or supplier.
No one appreciates being told their faults, especially a customer. In this case, though, you’re really talking about what you understand as their biggest business challenges -- some of which may be related to the products or services you’re about to offer, but maybe also some other ones. Again, this is about building trust and credibility with the customer at a critical point in the buyer journey.
The weaknesses you’re reviewing here could also come from CRM, or it could be based on what you might have heard in an initial discovery call or email exchange. It could reference content marketing assets they downloaded or engaged with that speak to the weaknesses of an entire industry or sector.
Keep the conversation interactive by asking additional questions that give more context about the weaknesses, or the causes. It will make the ultimate pitch or value proposition of what you’re selling much more powerful.
Yes, they have an “opportunity” to buy something from you -- but that’s not really what this means in terms of your meeting and discussion.
This area should build upon the strengths and weaknesses you talked about earlier by looking at the business outcomes or results that the customer is really focused on. This should be as specific as possible, where you either show what you already know about their desired metrics or use the time you have to conduct a more through dialogue about what “success” means to them.
This is not to be confused with the usual conversation about return on investment (ROI), which is more likely to be about the metrics that determine when and how they will see value of a purchase.
This final area can be carved up in several different ways. Some threats are actually risks that customers need to understand. What kind of process changes might be introduced when a product is deployed and used, for instance? What pitfalls do they need to avoid that might set them back? What have you learned by selling to similar kinds of customers?
Other threats are more external -- even existential. For example, how have the customer’s competitors been dealing with similar challenges? If the customer fails to act soon (or at all) what might the worst-case scenario be? The “threats” in this case might be everything from loss of productivity to brand reputation or even revenue.
By the time the meeting ends, your SWOT analysis should give customers on honest assessment on what to do and any next steps. This could involve getting more information from them, researching answers to their questions on your end or a getting other stakeholders involved.
Once you’ve gained buy-in on the SWOT analysis, however, the path to a successful partnership -- and a closed deal -- will become less of a battle and more like an easy win.