“What Can You Do For Me?”


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Wipe away all the fancy words and stuff we talk about in selling, the fundamental question we have to confront is that which is most important to the customer or prospect, “What Can You Do For Me?”

And here’s the crux of the problem for far too many sales people. They don’t know! (As a side note, when I pose that question to a sales person, the more they start waving their hands around, the more animated they get in talking about their product, the more I know they are clueless about the answer to that question.)

Think of all the blind calls sales people make, simply dialing numbers on some procured list. Never taking the time to research the customer (enterprise or individual), never knowing whether the prospects are even in the sweet spot of problems they can solve. When they are fortunate enough to have someone pick of up the phone, they launch into a pitch about the product.

Too often, when all the sales person does is pitch their product and solution, it is left up to the customer to figure out “What can you do for me?” Frankly, if the customer has to do that for themselves, why should they wasted the time. They have much more urgent things to do, so why waste their time if the sales person can’t answer the question.

There are others, much better sales people, who talk about results others have achieved. “We’ve worked with customers like you and have helped them achieve these things…..” This is a powerful step forward. It helps give the customer an idea that maybe the sales person can do something for them. But it still leaves the customer in the uncomfortable position of not having an explicit answer to “What can you do for me?”

The customer will probably get engaged, thinking, “if it worked for them, then it might be helpful for us.” But the sales person still has the responsibility of answering that specific question at some point in the buying process. Usually, that’s the business justification, and usually that comes at the end of the sales cycle. That’s if the sales person does that, but too often, they rely on the generic value statements, “We help customers do this….,” never getting to the specific, “You should expect to achieve this [Insert specific dollars/euros/yuan, or other business specific business value].

Too often, the sales person doesn’t provide the specific business justification, just the examples of what others have achieve. In fairness, too often customers don’t demand this specific justification—which may be a reason why so many sales efforts result in “no decision made.”

At some point in the customer’s buying process, both we and they must have a specific answer to the question, “What can you do for me?”

But what if, instead of asking the customer to act on faith that the value we’ve created for others, might somehow be created for them–and we validate that through the buying process. What if we could move that forward in the process? What if we can do that in the very first call?

What is we brought Insight that was specific, unique, and concrete to the customer, presenting it in the very first meeting? If we could say, “Based on the results we’ve produced with other organizations and our analysis of your company/function/department, we believe we can produce these specific results……”

This transforms the first meeting and the customer engagement in profound ways. Without waiting for them to pose the question, we have answered the single most important question they have, “What can you do for me?” We’ve answered the question in a manner that is specific and relevant to the customer.

At this point, you’re probably asking, “How do you do this?” Well, it’s actually not that hard, but there are some big “gotcha’s” to be able to do this.

First, you have to really understand what problems you solve and the value you create–not generally, but specifically. You have to know, based on actual results you’ve produced for customers, what you can do. So, for example, you can increase inventory turns by 63.27% and reduce manufacturing scrap by 27.19%. (OK, it doesn’t have to be decimal point accuracy, I’m just playing with you). It’s best to validate these results against a number of customers, not just one.

Second, you have to understand those results based on KPI’s meaningful to the customer. Financial KPI’s – P&L, Balance Sheet, Cashflow–are always the best. They are generally the most accessible, as well. But you can also look at various productivity KPI’s. Looking at the previous example of inventory turns, you can look at your customer’s P&L, Balance Sheet, and key ratios, identifying a specific dollar impact on the customer–based on what you have validated with other customers. You may have problems estimating the specific impact of scrap reduction, unless you can find out what that is. It’s generally not reported in corporate financial reports. With some metrics, like the manufacturing scrap metric, you may be able to make informed guesses. You may not be precisely right, but you might be close enough–at least for the first conversation.

So it’s actually not that difficult to be specific with the customer in the first sales call—as long as you understand specifically what value you create, you”ve validated it in work with other customers, and you can translate that value to KPI’s meaningful to the customer—simple. I’ll stop there, call me if you want to understand this part a little more.

But think about how this transforms that first discussion with the customer. In your very first call you are suggesting, specifically, what you can do for them! It’s interesting how that transforms the conversation. The customer will always ask, “How did you come up with that?” All of a sudden, the meeting has transformed, the customer is engaged, you are having a conversation about their business and the issue most critical to them.

Yes, we make some assumptions in this process. We make educated guesses, based on what we have done for others and based on our research of the customer. But that’s easy to deal with. As the conversation progresses and the customer asks, “How did you come up with that,” your response is, “I made these assumptions about your business…..” You continue by asking, “Are they appropriate? How would you change them?” From that moment on, you and your customer are engaged in talking, specifically, about what you can do for them, refining it, as you guide them through the buying process.

It’s actually pretty easy as long as you:

  • Understand the specific value you create in KPI’s meaningful and relevant to the customer.
  • Have validated that value with other customers.
  • Have done your homework about the customer’s specific performance in those KPI’s.
  • Have the business acumen to translate that value map to the customer’s specific data.
  • Have a deep enough understanding of the KPI’s to engage a customer in a specific, value based conversation.

But, isn’t this what we, as sales professionals are supposed to do?

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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