I’ve been sitting in a lot of deal reviews recently. The clients are in varied businesses, ranging from software technologies, medical devices, capital equipment, electronic components, financial services, and so forth.
But in each of these reviews, there is a common pattern. Whenever I ask the questions, “What is the customer trying to do, What are they seeking to change about how they grow their businesses,” the responses follow a similar pattern.
“They need to buy data security software, they need to buy electronic components, they need to buy cloud management software, they need to buy…..”
100% of the time, the answers to the questions are about what the sales person is selling. I persist, “I know that’s what you are selling, but what is the customer trying to do?”
Most of the time, the frustrated sales person responds, “They need to buy data security software, they need to buy electronic components, they need to buy cloud management software, they need to buy…..”
I go at it again, “Describe what you’re customer is trying to do, without mentioning anything about your product, what you sell, or your product category….”
Then I start to get responses like, “They’ve had problems with hackers and some breaches of their systems. It creates a financial/legal exposure with their customer records.” Or, “They are designing a new product that needs to do this….They need to introduce it by… They think it will drive $M in revenue in the first year…”
If you continue to focus on your product, price will always win.
These are the things the customer is trying to achieve. These form the basis for the compelling business reasons for the customer to take action.
But there’s a problem. Fewer than 20% of the sales people I talk to can get to this explanation. The reason is they have never asked, they have never probed to understand the customer need to buy. As a result, they lose most of their ability to create value with the customer. They lose the ability to really help the customer change their business.
How does this happen?
There are a lot of excuses—I mean reasons.
The main reason is sales people focus on their goals and objectives. They need to sell software, or electronic components, or financial services….so that’s their entire frame of reference.
Another big reason is they get involved in the customer buying journey very late. The customer engages them, saying, “We need to buy this…it looks like you sell it…”
Excited, sales people dive right in and respond with how wonderful the product is, focusing on the superiority, features, functions, feeds and speeds…
They never take the time to ask, “Why do you need to buy this type of solution, what is it you are trying to do, what are the business issues you are trying to address…”
Sometimes, sales people say they ask these questions and the customer doesn’t know. Then we are dealing with the wrong customer! People don’t buy just for the sake of buying. They buy to achieve a business result. Until we understand what that is and why it’s important, we don’t know how to help them buy and how to help them select our solutions. As a result, we create no value.
Look at all the qualified deals in your pipeline
Can you describe what the customer is trying to do, why it’s important to them, and the consequences of not doing moving forward?
Can you do it without mentioning your product or product category?
Can you do it in your customer’s terms/business language?
Can you connect the dots between what they are trying to do and how it contributes to the their overall goals and priorities?
Until you can answer these questions, you don’t know how to be most helpful to your customer. Until you can answer these questions, you don’t know how to maximize the value you can create with your customer.
If you continue to focus on your product, the discussion focuses on my product versus the competition and the price—and price will always win.
This is no way to sell. This is no way to help customers. This is no way to earn/win the customer’s business.
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.