Cathy was presented with a great lead from a networking partner. She called the decision-maker and got through without hitting his voice mail! She was excited to find he was anxious to see her, and arranged for an introductory meeting the very next day.
That meeting was, in her opinion, flawless. The decision maker was sincere, open and thorough. Every need he described was tailor-made for her company’s product and services. His displeasure with the current provider was quite evident. He felt he was misled when he bought, and service levels had been unacceptable from the beginning. Slow response times, billing that was impossible to decipher, and long hold times for customer and technical support were just a few of his many complaints.
While price was an issue, it clearly wasn’t the only thing that mattered. Moreover, he was ready to move quickly. When Cathy asked when he wanted a proposal, he said as soon as possible – he said he HAD to buy quickly.
Her company represented manufacturers well known for reliability and upgradability. Her service organization had a stellar reputation for responsiveness. She was working with a decision maker who was unhappy with his current provider. He had an adequate budget, price wasn’t his most important factor, and he had to make a decision soon.
She was thrilled, and not surprisingly, the presentation went extremely well. When she asked what he thought at the end of the presentation, the response was “Everything looks great. Good job. You met all my needs. I have everything I need to make the decision!” It would be made by next Tuesday, and he would call her then. The sales team left feeling confident the call on Tuesday would deliver an order.
Tuesday came and went, as did Wednesday and Thursday. The call never came. Multiple calls to the decision maker went unanswered; voice mails left with no response. They finally got news of the prospect’s decision to buy from a competitor in an email from his administrative assistant. The deal was lost. Cathy was devastated. Had this gracious and cooperative prospect lied? Not at all. It was Cathy’s fault. SHE had wasted her valuable time, as well as the time of her prospect, by not asking one simple question.
It’s funny. If you ask Cathy, she would say she lost on price.
And it happens over and over again. Countless man-hours are wasted on sales opportunities that look so promising, yet yield such disappointment. The cost to salespeople, their companies and their prospects, in terms of financial and human resource, is staggering. And it is, to a large extent, completely avoidable.
Too Much Focus on Meeting Needs
Cathy’s error was too much emphasis on her buyer’s needs. Consider this: The buyer wanted a responsive service organization, billing that was decipherable, shorter hold times for technical and customer support, reliability, quality, and upgradability. Could Cathy meet those needs? Absolutely.
Could others as well? Absolutely.
So the buyer evaluated three companies. All asked for what he needed, and he graciously obliged. All three companies came back with solutions that met his needs. So the buyer was left with a relatively simple decision. Sure, he said that price wouldn’t be the most important factor. And it wasn’t. Getting his needs met was more important. But, when all was said and done and all needs were met, choosing the lowest price provider was a common sense decision. And that’s what he did.
One Question That Can Change the Outcome
I’m not submitting you should stop asking buyers to tell you what they need, but the conversation can’t stop there. You see, a buyer will purchase from those companies who meet their needs BETTER than others. If you simply identify the need and don’t ask HOW they will determine who is BETTER at meeting it, meeting the need is all you can do. Then you end up like Cathy.
“With each of these needs, how will you determine which solution is best?”
If you ask this one simple question, one of two things will happen. Best case is you and the buyer will have a meaningful discussion about what, in the buyer’s mind, would make one solution better than another. Then YOU determine whether or not you can be ‘best’ and develop and deliver your solution accordingly.
Worse case (and it isn’t bad), you determine that based on what the customer needs, there isn’t an opportunity to prove you are any better than other solutions, and you walk away without wasting your or the buyer’s time (unless, of course, you want to compete on price).