Solution Conversational Mastery


10 minutes read


Most adult human beings have conversational mastery in a number of specific topics. It might be gardening, cooking, classic cars, historical events, or whatever.

This paper discusses the importance of conversational mastery for enterprise B2B salespeople and marketers selling productivity improvement to the enterprise. Networks, hardware, software, systems, systems integration, and consulting to the enterprise – high difficulty selling. “Solutions” that are conceptual, intangible, perceived as expensive, sold to committees. Most enterprise B2B sellers and marketers struggle with solution conversational mastery.

Solution conversational mastery is effectively communicating and engaging in solution conversations with prospects and customers in a confident, articulate, and impactful way. It involves understanding the nuances of verbal and nonverbal communication, connected listening, empathy, and adapting to different social situations and audiences. Conversational mastery also includes skills such as asking intelligent discovery questions, being able to steer and control the flow of conversation, and knowing how to build rapport and connect with people on a deeper level. It is a valuable skill set that can enhance personal and professional relationships and overall social success.

In 1979, As part of the Xerox SPIN project, Neil Rackham observed that the best B2B sales calls are conversations, not presentations.

In 1983, when I was rolling out version 1.0 of Solution Selling, I was selling my clients on the importance of their sellers having situational fluency — the ability of their salespeople to conversationally match a customer situation with the specific product capabilities that would enable the customer to deal with that particular situation.

Product and solution expertise are fundamentally different approaches to the enterprise sales process. Much to my dismay, most B2B clients I have worked with over the past 40+ years were much better at facilitating product expertise than situation-specific solution expertise for their salespeople.

Product expertise is a deep understanding of a product’s features, capabilities, and benefits. It’s the traditional approach where a salesperson is trained to master the product details and then pitch (demos & PowerPoint) these features to potential buyers.

While product expertise may provide prestige and an air of authority, it often overwhelms buyers with excessive information and lengthens the time-to-solution expertise for new salespeople. It also forces potential buyers to figure out on their own when, why, how, or IF they would use your product to solve a problem.

For most people, a solution is an answer to a problem. In my opinion, the only person permitted to declare a problem solved is the owner of the problem. Solution expertise is about leading your prospects and customers to a vision of a solution for their problems. It requires understanding the buyer’s situation and effectively addressing it with your product offerings. This approach focuses on the practical application of your customer USING your product to solve real-world issues. Solution expertise enables salespeople to conversationally diagnose the buyer’s problem and explore potential solutions, much like a doctor does with their patients.

Product expertise facilitates presentations.

Solution expertise facilitates conversations.

Situation-specific solution expertise facilitates conversational mastery. 

For face-to-face selling, solution expertise does have a potential downside — impatience. As salespeople gain hard-earned solution expertise, they reach a point of peak performance where they can quickly ‘see’ a fit for their product – even if the buyer is still wrestling with fully understanding their problem. This often leads to premature elaboration and rushed solutions, which can decrease performance when sellers get too far ahead of their buyer’s learning curves. Buyers feel pressure when sellers get out in front of them too quickly. When buyers feel pressure, they stop their buying process. The challenge for sellers with solution expertise is not letting the excitement of a potential ‘perfect fit’ lead to impatience, premature conclusions, and pressure on their buyers.

While some product expertise is essential, solution expertise empowers salespeople to effectively address the buyer’s needs and provide value. The key is to balance the two, using solution expertise to do intelligent discovery and create visions of solutions. The best use of product expertise comes when it is time to prove your product will meet your prospect’s buying visions.

To practice solution conversational mastery, salespeople can adopt several strategies:

Firstly, shifting from practicing presentations to practicing situational conversations is crucial. While traditional salespeople often rely on polished presentations and role-play practice, engaging in two-way dialogues tailored to the customer’s needs and situation is more effective.

Secondly, salespeople should learn to ask situation-specific discovery questions instead of simply offering their opinions. Make your buyers part of the diagnosis process. This allows sellers to better understand the customer’s perspective and needs and to provide potential product usage solutions that are genuinely beneficial.

Thirdly, adopting a customer-usage mindset for your product offerings is critical. This involves guiding customers in solving their problems and achieving their goals using your capabilities rather than expounding on the ‘benefits’ of your product.

Another essential aspect of conversational mastery is learning to speak in the ‘voice of your customer’ and eliminating ‘vendor speak.’ This involves using language and terms the customer can easily understand and relate to rather than industry jargon or product features.

Lastly, salespeople should strive to be both active and empathic listeners. By genuinely paying attention to what the customer is saying and how they are saying it, enterprise salespeople can gain valuable insights that can help them tailor their offer to the customer’s specific needs and preferences.

Conversational mastery in sales is a skill that requires active practice. It is something you DO to learn rather than learn to do. It’s not just about knowing the product or service you’re selling but also understanding your buyers’ needs, problems, desires, and goals. It’s about positioning your offerings in a way that resonates with them. It’s like being an inspirational speaker who has practiced their talk often – you want to inspire excitement and belief in your buyers. You want to ensure your messaging is on point from your first interaction. It’s not enough to make a sale but to strive to empower your buyers to become champions of your product or service. Conversational mastery doesn’t come from watching a video or reading a book; it comes from getting out there and practicing.

What are some common pitfalls in achieving conversational mastery?

One common pitfall that salespeople might encounter on their journey toward conversational mastery is the tendency to rely on the comfort of presenting rather than engaging in situation-specific solution conversations. Many salespeople attempt to use presentations to add polish and drama to their pitch, but this often comes across as impersonal and scripted. Conversations are more effective because they allow for a back-and-forth exchange that can more accurately fine-tune the seller’s knowledge of the buyer’s needs and concerns.

Another major obstacle to conversational mastery in many organizations is the resistance of sellers to practice. Sales is the only high-paid profession I know of where professionals resist and avoid practice. Many sales professionals are reluctant to practice their conversational selling skills, akin to a professional athlete refusing to train. Just as you can’t learn to drive a stick shift car from a book, you can’t gain conversational mastery without actually doing it. Practice is crucial in developing this skill.

Lastly, many salespeople struggle with steering conversations without appearing overbearing or pushy. While it’s impossible to anticipate every interaction with buyers, having a formal strategy and process to guide the conversation to uncover your buyer’s needs and position your company’s offerings as the solution can lead to improving both sales performance and your customer’s experience with you and your products.

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