What makes 12boxes different?
Malcolm Sleath explains the thinking behind 12boxes.
This is an evolving article. Your questions and comments will help to make it better.
People who offer high-value complex services need to influence others as a way of:
- bringing the client on board so that projects and assignments are a successful collaboration
- encouraging clients to think about commissioning appropriate new work so that there are always interesting projects coming down the pipeline
- developing a profitable business so as to achieve their personal and professional goals
However, specialists, professional advisors and consultants do not want to look and sound like salespeople, and need to communicate the value of their proposals in a way which builds trust and confidence.
Most problems in business development come from a mismatch between where the client is in their buying process, and where the seller is. For example, it is very common for a professional to come to a view about the best course of action for a client early in the course of a conversation, well before the client recognises the problem, let alone realises how serious it is.
The most important difference between 12boxes and most other approaches to business development is that it focuses on the state of mind of the client, as opposed to what the seller is doing. It enables you to be clear about where the client is in the buying process and where you want to get to, leaving you free to focus on your client.
Some people are a bit suspicious of models and grids. They feel they are too ‘left brain’ and that they are designed by people who want to reduce the world to a few shapes on a piece of paper or, even worse, a PowerPoint slide. To those people, I would say think of 12boxes as being like the London tube map. The map cannot hope to reflect the richness of the city that it represents. But it does enable you to find your way around and get to where you want to go. You can then focus on the wonderful things you find there. Instead of spending half your time feeling anxious and lost, you can relax and take it all in.
Knowing where your client is in the 12boxes map is not a substitute for listening to your client and appreciating what they feel and value. It simply allows you to enter your client’s world without losing sight of the professional reason that brought you there in the first place.
The diagram on the right shows the twelve stages (or buying effects) a client displays as they take an idea on board. It helps you work out how far the client has bought into a recommended course of action, and what needs to be done next to move the client on. The general principle is that the seller needs to ensure the client has expressed each of the effects on one level before attempting to move the client up to the next.
You will see that the 12boxes diagram has three columns. Reading from left to right, the columns describe:
- the way the client sees their situation
- the way the client sees the problems associated with their situation
- the way the client sees the solution on offer
Each column has four levels. Reading from the bottom, they correspond to the well-known but often misunderstood AIDA sequence – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.
Imagine that we are visiting a manufacturing company to talk about production efficiency.
Attention indicates that the client has indicated awareness of some aspect of their situation, a problem or a solution. For example, if we focus on the blue box in the ‘situation’ column on the left, the client might be saying that he or she is aware of the scrap level in the machine shop.
Interest (the purple box) is where the client shows an emotional reaction to the scrap level. Interest usually focuses on concerns about potential loss or scarcity. For example, the client expresses dissatisfaction because he or she is concerned that the scrap level is rising or already too high.
Desire (the red box) is where the client expresses the desire to change the situation – they want to reduce the scrap level. The client might be inhibited from expressing this desire by their beliefs. For example, they might believe that high scrap levels are something they have to put up with because of the business they are in. They might think the workforce is incapable of adapting to new work methods. Or they might believe that they don’t have the personal skills to bring the change about. The role of the seller is to help the client reduce the power of any inhibiting beliefs so they feel able to express the desire which is already there and pushing them towards change.
Action (the orange box) is where the client envisages action. In our example, he or she would be talking about what people will be doing and saying when the scrap level has come down. They will be imagining what the machine shop will look, sound and even smell like, and so on.
For the sake of simplicity we are only describing part of the buying process here. Before the client gets to the orange level and starts to imagine the action in a changed situation, we would observe buying effects at the purple and red levels in the problem and solution columns.
Together, the twelve buying effects make up the buying process.
Before a client can seriously engage with a proposition, three conditions have to be met. They are all buying effects at the red level:
The client has to believe that a solution exists. The client does not have to know what it is, just that it is available. 12boxes shows that the seller does not need to describe the exact nature of a solution until after the client has explained the benefits they expect to achieve from implementing it. This brings important advantages when selling consulting and other high-value services where it is not possible to prove the effectiveness of a solution on the spot.
The client has to see the problem as serious. This is often as a result of the seller exploring a potential loss from not addressing a problem. 12boxes shows how to draw the attention of the client to potential losses without being personally threatening.
The client has to express the desire to change their situation. It is often the case that people know they have a serious problem and that a solution is available, but they still don’t address the issue. 12boxes shows how to transform client reservations and concerns (restraining forces) into attractive and valuable features of the solution.
You don’t have to understand each of the twelve buying effects straight off. By asking a series of apparently simple questions, your coach will help you develop a deep understanding of the buying process as it applies to your specialisation.
In using 12boxes, the seller generally thinks things through in the following sequence, summed up in the acronym SALES.
Solution: The seller expresses their preferred solution in terms that reflect the client’s interests rather than describe it from a technical point of view.
12boxes offers a simple formula for doing this. There are some examples right at the beginning of this article.
Alignment: The seller thinks through the other eleven buying effects by asking simple questions. For example, “What is the worst outcome for the client if they do not implement a solution like the one I have in mind?”, “If the solution for the client is so obvious to me, why haven’t they already done something about it?” and so on.
The seller’s hypothesis (or hunch, if you prefer) still has to be tested in conversation with the client. But being clear about the hypothesis means that the seller can focus on the client and test it out. If the seller has not made their hunch explicit to themselves, there is a real danger that they will subconsciously defend it by jumping in to correct what they see as ‘objections’.
Location: The seller reviews the buying effects they have already heard the client express. In meetings, or on the phone, the seller might summarise what they have understood so far. Not only does this make the client feel they have been listened to, but it allows the seller enough time to work out which stage the client seems to have reached in the buying process.
Effect: The next buying effect they want the client to express then becomes clear.
Strategy: The seller then decides the best way to encourage the client to express the buying effect. Options include:
- asking a question associated with getting clients to express a buying effect
- giving a demonstration
- telling a story in a way that enables the client to make a critical connection
- submitting a document that addresses particular issues
This is an evolving article. I hope you found it interesting. To help us improve it, post your comments below. Thanks.
In a surprisingly short time, the SALES sequence becomes second nature, making it easy for the seller to update their hunch or hypothesis in real time and adjust their approach accordingly.
From the client’s point of view the seller appears to be totally focused on their concerns and interests. The conversation proceeds like a process of discovery in which needs and solutions emerge.
From the seller’s point of view, the conversation enables him or her to validate or modify the original hypothesis as they take their client through the buying process one step at a time – until the client gives informed consent to implementing the solution.
Professionals who want to become more effective in winning the trust of their clients will find 12boxes invaluable.
Nick Shannon, Business Psychologist, Management Psychology Ltd