Maybe It’s Us That Keep Our Customers From Moving Forward


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Surely I must be a heretic suggesting it’s sales people that keep our customers from moving forward. After all, don’t we give them new ideas about their businesses? Don’t we talk about the new things our products and services enable them to do? Don’t we demonstrate how wonderful things could be with our shiny new solutions?

Customers look at those, some get all hot and lathered. “Wow, that’s brilliant stuff!” “You’ve got a great solution!” “Wow, I can really see the value of that!”

Yet they don’t move forward. They don’t buy. They remain rooted to what they currently do, despite all the problems, They don’t change, even though they “buy into” the value of the future solution.

It doesn’t make sense. If there is so much value, if they agree about the fantastic possibilities, why don’t they buy?

The problem is, we are standing on opposing sides of a chasm. Customers are rooted, on one side, in the “here and now” and sales people are on the other side, coaxing them to make the leap across. And there’s this chasm in between!

As attractive as that future might seem, until we make their current state so unattractive, customers are not likely to make the leap.

Yet, as sales people we tend to focus on the solution or the future state. Our arguments are focused on the benefits and the value–of how much better things could be. While our customers may not be uncomfortable enough in their current situation.

It’s a classic change management problem. To get the customer to change, to capture the potential value we present, they have to be very unhappy with their current state. We have help them become painfully aware of their current situation. We help them understand the costs and risks of doing nothing far greater than those of changing. We have to create a compulsion to change.

Focusing only on the future and how great things could be is seldom sufficient to get them to move forward. We must, albeit politely, get them to understand their current state is unacceptable. The customer has to recognize they must change.

Some might argue these are pressure tactics. I think there is a difference. Pressure tactics focus on getting an order–whether it’s a time limit, an offer that’s taken off the table, or something else. These are unacceptable and don’t address the issue that prevents the customer from moving forward.

We do have to create tension, not between between us and the customer, but with the current situation the customers finds themselves in.

This makes sales people uncomfortable. We might be telling the customer they are wrong, or making mistakes. We need to help them understand they may be putting themselves or their companies at risk–either through their current course of action or their current course of inaction.

So if we are to get our customers to change, to move forward, we have to bridge the chasm. We have to demonstrate the risk of doing something new is far less than the risk of doing nothing. We have to work both sides of the equation simultaneously.

Are you keeping your customers from moving forward by just focusing on how great things could be?

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.


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