In the first article, I considered some of the skills the world’s best screenwriters use to create their stories. Their disciplines searching for the conflict, pressing hard on the intent and obstacle to developing an idea into a draft script.
The challenges a screenwriter faces are surprisingly similar to those I have experienced firsthand, also observed sales executive and sales leaders face managing complex enterprise solution sales. I am continuing my interest in exploring these challenges and whether we can adapt their approaches to strengthening our own skills managing and developing high-value solution sales opportunities.
Where will that vital piece of information come from?
Screenwriters tell us research is the key to creating a great script, it is no different for solution selling. We never know where an unexpected break, that vital piece of information will come from. We have to start somewhere, screenwriters start with people who are close to the subject, character, or issue they want to write about. These contacts will introduce them to other people they consider the screenwriter needs to talk to. Much of their research at the beginning they don’t know what they are looking for, it is the early stages when they are trying to find the movie. Once again, early stages of a solution sale are not too different, we are searching for the conflict and compelling event that will ensure we will be able to confidently place the opportunity into our forecast.
When writing a script it is not until the screenwriter introduces the intention that they have really begun a story. And it is not until they introduce the obstacle that the conflict has begun. Solution selling is similar until we find the intent, obstacle, conflict it is unlikely we will have a high-value opportunity. And until we find the compelling event we cannot confidently forecast our opportunity.
A strong intention and formidable obstacle
How do screenwriters know if the intention is strong enough, the obstacle formidable enough? They do what is called “Pressing on it”. The intention must have high stakes and risk associated with it. Continuing with Tony Kushner’s script for the film Lincoln that I introduced in the first article, Lincoln’s commitment to abolish slavery and get the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed by the Senate placed his political career at risk. The same is true for the obstacles he faced. Winter was over, fighting and a new season of bloodshed would commence shortly, more families would be torn apart by grief. Lincoln knew if he had an opportunity to end the war and did not take it his political career would be at risk. His formidable obstacles were the opposition in the Senate and a Confederate negotiation team secretly en route to discuss terms for surrender. Lincoln knew this team would not agree to abolish slavery, he also knew he could not meet them before the amendment was put to the Senate. The obstacles were formidable, his intent was absolute, and conflicts were intense. He had a short window of opportunity to line up and execute on all the moving parts to achieve his intent – it was the perfect script to tell Lincoln’s story.
When developing a solution sale, I recommend we do exactly the same, we need to press hard on the intent, obstacle and conflict to ensure they are formidable enough. We need to focus our activities to only include facts we uncover during our research that directly relate to that intent, obstacle and conflict. Any facts or parts of our solution, no matter how cool they may be, that do not relate to this focus should be removed. And we need to orchestrate all the moving parts working with trusted contacts and the customer to achieve our own intent to close a high-value solution sale.
Finding the compelling event
It is the same for the compelling event, Lincoln knew he had to get the Thirteenth Amendment through the Senate before he could meet the Confederate negotiating team. If not, he would have lost the leverage he needed to abolish slavery once peace had been secured. When solution selling, we need to have done the research to understand these dynamics and the compelling event. Good research will guide us where we need to focus our sales activities to win our customers’ trust and confidence. It is important we are totally committed early on in the sale to finding the compelling event and understanding the customer dynamics. Once found we press hard to confidently forecast an accurate closure.
Building a trusted network
Every good screenwriter surrounds themselves with trusted advisors whose feedback they value. They will share their draft script and welcome critical feedback, no matter how harsh that feedback may be. Reviews will involve pressing hard on the intent and obstacle, looking to see if there are ways to easily get around an obstacle. If found, the writer revisits their script until the obstacle is formidable enough.
We need to do the same when developing our solution sales opportunities. Building a network of trusted advisors within our business and the customer’s business is vital to ensuring a successful sale. It is also important we avoid surrounding ourselves only with other people like us or those who will tell us what they think we would like to hear.
Building trusted relationships is an important foundation for managing a successful solution sale. Many of the best sales executives I’ve seen and worked with recognize the value of keeping their pre-sales consultants and solution architects fully informed. The top performers go further, they instil the confidence in their support team to objectively challenge and contribute to developing the sale. Guiding them to press hard helps chip away the noise and sharpening their pitch, building the confidence they have secured the competitive high ground to close the opportunity when forecast.
Working as a team
The scriptwriter relies on their support team to deliver their best work, so does the salesperson, which means solution selling is a team effort. Pre-sales consultants and architects are responsible for ensuring the solution proposed is technically fit for purpose, which means they need to understand the purpose. The screenwriter’s discipline and skills we have touched on I consider are equally relevant to the technical solution sales team as they are to the commercial sales team leading the sale.
Sales leaders also play a critical role, especially during pipeline reviews. They too must press hard to be confident the opportunity is forecast correctly. The same is true for pre-sales leaders guiding and coaching their teams to be accountable for understanding the intent, obstacle, conflict and compelling event. This ensures pre-sales can support sales by building their own trusted relationships to help sharpen the sales pitch.
Keep raising the stakes
Good screenwriters will continually raise the stakes so the audience feels the conflict, tension and risks facing each character. It is no different with solution selling, we need decision makers and those influencing the sale to feel the conflict in their business caused by the formidable obstacle, to feel the tension, risk and concern they may not achieve their intended goal if they do not act. During the sale, we need to keep pressing hard, raising the stakes so the customer recognizes that doing nothing is no longer an option they can fall back on.
Bringing it all together
To conclude, screenwriters are focused on creating inspiring and entertaining stories that a successful director, or a living legend in the case of Spielberg who directed Lincoln, will back. The same is true for investors and others committed to the project, each will have a shared intent to create a blockbuster success and, or a good return on their investment. Many of the skills and discipline screenwriters rely on to be successful are similar to those top-performing solution sales executives and leaders rely on to be successful in developing and closing high-value solution sales.
There are many other disciplines good screenwriters employ that can prove invaluable to developing and managing a complex solution sale. I have covered a few in these two articles and welcome your feedback and experiences related to using other screenwriting disciplines that help sharpen our solution sales skills.