Do You Really Know Your Company’s Appeal? Find Out Why Your Customers Bought From You


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Here’s a novel idea: Go visit your new customers four or five months after they purchased your software and after they have deployed it into production use. Ask them, “How are you using our software? What applications have you implemented? What value are you receiving?”

What you learn is tremendously important! You’ll take away terrific reference and success stories that will help you make your next sale, expand deployment with existing customers and even open new markets.

Very valuable, very rare

If you are in sales, wouldn’t it be wonderful to know what goals, objectives and Critical Business Issues (CBIs) are faced by the new prospects you engage? Wouldn’t it be delightful to know the underlying reasons for these challenges and the specific capabilities most likely desired by these prospects to address their CBIs?

Interviewing current customers to gain exactly this information enables salespeople to address prospects more effectively and to sell with greater precision. This same information helps marketing prepare relevant, focused and accurate materials for these new prospects. It also prepares the presales team to create and deliver more compelling and more effective demonstrations—and reduces the “show up and throw up” and “harbor cruise” demos typically offered as qualification exercises.

Most companies do not actively collect and leverage “why did they buy?” information today. While there is a certain amount of “tribal knowledge” gathered for a few key reference accounts, each salesperson largely has only his or her own personal experiences to draw upon.

Interestingly, many vendors complete “win/loss” analyses every quarter—but with the

major focus on “why we lost the deal” or “why we won.” Both analyses focus on the mechanics of the deal-making and closing process, and neither provides reference or success stories that support future sales.

The sad summary is that most companies simply do not collect this information€”and, thereby, lose very important opportunities.

What can you learn?

You can take away two wonderfully useful sets of information:

  • Applications your customer has deployed and expected to implement and roll out
  • Applications your customer has deployed that were unexpected or unanticipated at the time of purchasing your software

Both sets of information translate into success and reference stories that help sales and marketing people sell into existing and new markets more effectively.

Expected applications

The first group is applications that your customer planned to implement, when they purchased your product and did, indeed, roll out. Regarding these applications, you should ask:

  • What application(s) did you deploy?
  • Who are the current users, and how many are there?
  • What value, in terms of people, time, or money, has been enjoyed by using these applications?

This information then becomes the basis for reference and success stories. While a handful of such stories are typically formalized in collateral or on web sites, many more can be gathered and used anecdotally or as “sanitized” reference stories.

Salespeople can use this information when prospecting for new customers and in engaging these new prospects. Presenting a prospect with the success stories of other customers in similar situations generates real interest in learning more. These success stories enable the sales team to earn a measure of credibility with these prospects to move the sales process forward faster.

High-performing sales reps know that prospects are much more interested in learning how your organization has helped others in similar situations solve their business problems, as opposed to being flogged with another interminable corporate overview presentation.

Astute marketing professionals and product managers know that these success stories are the single most important sets of information needed for their go-to-market materials.

Unexpected applications

How many times have you visited a customer and found that they have implemented something truly terrific and wholly unique? When you do see these applications, don’t you get excited to see the novel ways customers are using your software’s capabilities?

What does this information represent? These new, novel applications provide you with the opportunity to increase deployment in existing customers (up-sell time!). These applications are also the vehicles to enter new markets or address new players in existing markets.

These unexpected applications are truly golden opportunities.

At The Second Derivative, we strongly recommend that companies organize to collect and disseminate these novel reference and success stories to the field and marketing groups€”a perfect use for sales force automation tools.

Why did



We had sold a complete, fully integrated high-throughput workflow to a major pharmaceutical company. Revenue recognition was dependent on shipment and delivery of the system. Revenue, in this case, was several millions of dollars and on-time shipment meant the different between making the quarter’s numbers (or not).

We were using commercial software product from a particular vendor I’ll call Vendor W in the workflow, but we were unable to access the software’s underlying “hooks” to enable it to be properly integrated into the rest of the workflow. Vendor W was unhelpful and unresponsive to our requests for access to its application programming interface.

We also had experience with Vendor A; we were using its software for an in-house implementation of another workflow. For end-users, the software offered by Vendor W and Vendor A were effectively equivalent. However, Vendor A was helpful and willing to assist us in connecting to its API€”and provided documentation and direct customer-service assistance.

We replaced Vendor W’s software with that of Vendor A, completed the integration work and shipped the workflow on time.

If you asked us why we bought from Vendor A, our answer would be the ability to connect to the API€”an open interface€”and the assistance we received in the process.

Yet, this open interface attribute was entirely absent from Vendor A’s advertising or collateral. Even more interesting is that this workflow ultimately included several hundreds of dollars of Vendor A’s products (and not Vendor W’s), and the workflow was sold and delivered to other pharmaceutical companies.

It is the unique and successful vendor that goes back to its customers to learn why customers bought its products and, even more importantly, how they are using those products today.

“Why did they buy?” information provides the success and reference stories needed to achieve quarterly quotas, dominate current markets and establish beachheads in new marketplaces. It is, after all, why you are in business.

© 2005 The Second Derivative. All Rights Reserved.

Peter Cohan
Have you ever seen a bad software demonstration? Peter Cohan is the founder and principal of Great Demo!, focused on helping software organizations improve the success rates of their demos. He authored Great Demo! - how to prepare and deliver surprisingly compelling software demonstrations. Peter has experience as an individual contributor, manager and senior management in marketing, sales, and business development. He has also been, and continues to be, a customer.


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