But We Gave Them Everything They Wanted!?!


Share on LinkedIn

It was a loss review, one of those very difficult discussions after a major–and surprising loss. I’d been invited by a client to participate and help analyze the loss. First, I have to congratulate them for conducting a review, too few organizations conduct these and use these for improvement.

But that’s not the point. During the review, one of the product management executives was really puzzled as the sales team explained the loss. At one point, exasperated, he said, “But we gave them everything they wanted……why did we lose?” He was frustrated and didn’t understand. They had met all the customer technical, business, even pricing requirements, but they still lost the order.

The account manager was equally frustrated in his response, but he captured the central issue very nicely, “But you don’t understand what we took them through before we finally gave them the solution they wanted! After that experience, why would you expect anyone to buy?”

It’s an important issue, particularly in very complex and “configurable” solutions. We aren’t selling a “catalog” or standard product. There are many complex options, tradeoffs, and alternatives the customer has to consider in finding a solution that meets their goals. Sometimes, we have to change our solution–providing certain technical capabilities or modifications, commit to future enhancements, modify some of our business processes, provide services to help the customer in implementation.

Providing solutions to complex business problems is often a back and forth between the customer and suppliers. The solution is being developed, commitments are being negotiated. It’s a difficult process in any case, but too often we put too many unreasonable hurdles in front of our sales people and customers, we take them through a buying experience that exhausts and frustrates them.

In the end, we’ve “given the customer everything they wanted,” but the process in getting to this point has been difficult, contentious, and in many cases, offensive to both the sales people and the customer. I’ve been in those meetings, the customer is challenged—not in a positive sense, but in a negative sense–”Why are you considering something so stupid and foolish?” (OK, I’m exaggerating, but not by much.) The back and forth, the delays, the questioning–not just for information but the questioning of motive, intent, and objectives. The constant justification the customer and the sales team have to provide to get a positive response from our companies is exhausting and painful.

And remember, the customer is going through the same process with each alternative they are considering.

In providing solutions to very complex problems, it’s critical to make sure we understand what the customer needs. We have to make sure we can deliver a solution that works, that we can support, and that is good business for us. But in the process, too often we forget the experience we are taking the customer through in providing solutions.

A colleague tracked an opportunity in her company. It was a fairly “normal” opportunity, a good sized deal. There wasn’t anything extraordinary, but there was a lot invovled in responding to the customer and proposing. In just this deal, she identified over 35 internal meetings, and 100?s of emails. You can imagine what that looked like from the customer’s perspective. You can imagine the frustration the sales people face in trying to manage their company’s response to the company–while still being competitive.

Having been on the “buying” side of some of these decisions, I sometimes feel as though my team is being asked to justify giving the vendor a chance to accept our money. The hassle factor to the customer (and the sales team) is so high, it starts causing the customer to consider, “Do I really want to do business with this supplier over the long term?”

Sometimes, we tend to think of the the customer buying experience (and even their earlier experiences when we are nurturing and prospecting) as different from the customer experience, that is, how we treat them after they have purchased. To a customer, it’s one continuous experience—with decision points along the way, something like, “Do I want to continue to subject myself to this??????”

I’ve described this as happening on very complex solution sales. It is a common challenge for these types of situations. At the same time, I see in simpler deals, sales people subjecting their customers to terrible buying experiences. Yes, eventually we give the customer what they want (and what we are happy with giving), but if the path to that outcome is too challenging, why should the customer buy?

By all means, give the customer what they want—it starts with an outstanding buying experience!

PS: My thanks to my good friend, @francineallaire. Our coffee the other day was a source of inspiration for many of this past week’s blogs! Thanks so much!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
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.


  1. Dave: I agree that through the prospect’s eyes, how vendors behave during the sales process tells much about how they will behave post-implementation. On that account, in our world of ‘complex sales,’ there are abundant opportunities for vendors to prove their mettle, or conversely, to irreparably crush the possibility of a successful result.

    I’ve experienced both sides, and at times, it’s a fine line to walk, especially for vendors that fail to distinguish ‘give the customer what he/she wants’ from ‘let the customer do anything he/she wants.’ Vendors need to be flexible, but that doesn’t mean they should unquestioningly accept being led.

    Many years ago, one prospect I worked with insisted that my company ship a large slug of IT hardware to them prior to their releasing a purchase order. Incredible as that sounds now, those were their terms, and it was a sizable order near the end of the quarter. You already know the rest of the story . .

    The purchase order was never cut (“Sorry, Andy, we just couldn’t get it done!”), and the hardware was returned to my employer.

    Of course, sales resources are finite, so vendors must parse them intelligently. Some practices–such as the one in my example–are just bad business, and should not be followed, no matter how insistent the prospect is. On the other hand, it’s important to recognize when sales management sticks to the “process script” when it’s simply for the sake of doing so. That creates untold friction, and will jeopardize the sale.

  2. Andy, fantastic observation! My title is a little misleading. In doing complex deals, we always have to make sure the deal is good for us–that we can deliver, that we want to deliver, and that we can make money.

    Often, as your example points out, the customer asks things that are unreasonable. We don’t have to give them what they want, but we have to manage the issue effectively.

    Giving the customer what they want is a “give and take” engagement. I think the issue I was trying to address was the process we take customers and ourselve through.

    Too often it is more bureaucratic, cumbersome, unresponsive, one-sided than need be. At the end, both we and the customer are just worn down and worn out.

    Thanks for helping “correct” the intent of this post.

  3. Dave: regarding your central theme: Yes, I have worked on selling situations when we have unintentionally made poor impressions on prospects. When prospects have requested to meet at their facility, management has insisted that they come to headquarters to ‘see our extensive resources.’ When prospects ask to benchmark our performance claims, management insists on re-formulating the prospect’s criteria. The list goes on. “MegaCorp bought a huge system from us, and they never needed to evaluate XYZ.” When a pattern emerges to the “We can’t, but . . . ” messages that the sales rep delivers to the prospect, there’s trouble that sometimes translates to “the rep just couldn’t get it done . . . ” Yes, and no.

    I’m far from advocating that vendors accede to every prospect demand, but management needs to recognize the strains that occur when requests aren’t met, how that information comes across, and to understand the consequences.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here