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If You Were In Your Customer’s Shoes, What Would You Do?

by David Brock on July 4th, 2014

Some time ago, I was doing a deal review with a great sales team.  They were preparing for an important call on the key decision makers of a customer.  They deal, if they won, would have been huge–$10’s of millions.  More importantly, it would have displaced their biggest competitor–the current incumbent in the account.

The customer was undergoing a huge expansion of their business–building new sites, all of which required massive investments in new solutions.  The sales team had been invited by the customer to discuss what they could do.  The customer was considering a potential shift from their current solutions to a different approach.  In preparing for the meeting, they knew all the advantages they had over the competitor’s solutions.  They could present a lot of data, they had a sound business case and value proposition.  They had some insight into areas of dissatisfaction the customer had with their current supplier.

But they were struggling with figuring out what their real edge might be.

As we worked through ideas, I posed a question to the team, “If you were in your customer’s shoes, and could put aside all your passion and enthusiasm for your current solutions, what decision would you make?”

After a moment of silence and reflection, they stated, “We’d stay with the current supplier!”  They went on to describe the risks of change, their familiarity with the current solution/vendor, some capabilities of the current solution, and cited, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t,” and a few other well thought out ideas.

Then I asked, “If the right answer is not to change, then why are they interested in talking to you?”

They paused, looked at each other, then said, “We don’t know.”

To be fair, they had some ideas, the customer had expressed some issues and problems they were having with their current solutions.  They’d expressed real interest in some of the new capabilities my client’s solution could offer.  They knew the customer wasn’t totally happy with what they were currently doing.   But, given all that knowledge–and the knowledge they had of their own solution, the team still thought the best business decision was for the customer to stay with the incumbent.

And, despite all the meetings they had and information they’d gleaned, they didn’t know why the customer was interested in talking to them.

So the team screwed up their courage, and went into the meeting with one key question:

“If we were in your shoes, knowing what we know of your current situation and investment in the competition’s systems, we probably would continue to use those systems in your new locations.  So why are you interested in talking to us about our solutions?”

Then they went silent.

The customer could have said, “You know, upon reflection, you’re right, it probably doesn’t make sense to change.  Thank you for your help.”

But they didn’t.

In fact, it was as if the flood gates opened.  Framing the question in that context caused the customer to open up in a way they’d never done before.  They talked for over an hour about problems they were having with their current systems, challenges in the relationship with the current vendor, things they wanted to do, but couldn’t do easily with the current tools.  They went on and on about the competition.

The team took notes, but largely stayed silent.  They asked a few questions to probe and clarify, but mostly listened.

When the customer finished talking about the problems with the current vendor,  They went on to talk about their perceptions of my client’s solutions.  They discussed the things the really liked, things they had learned in researching my client and their solutions.  A few concerns they had.

But most of all they described why they wanted to buy.  They discussed what they needed to know, and what they needed to overcome to make a switch from their current solution to my client’s solution.  They laid out, without really saying so, all the things the sales team needed to address to win the business.

As sales people, often we are confused about why a customer might change.  We may be blinded by our passion for our own solutions (or making our quotas), so we focus on convincing the customer of our own superiority.  But we may not be addressing the customer’s real issues or our opportunity to differentiate ourselves.

Every once in a while, it’s very powerful to put ourselves in our customers shoes and answer the question, honestly, “If I were the customer, what choice would I make?”  If the answer isn’t your solution, then the most powerful thing you can do is pose the issue to the customer.

The worst possible thing that can happen is they can say, “You know you are right.”  But that’s probably what we would have discovered at the end of a long and painful sales cycle, anyway.

More likely, particularly if they have invited you to participate, there are a whole number of issues they are struggling with, just waiting to tell you, if you just give them the chance.

If your solution doesn’t make sense to you, it will never make sense to the customer.  But if they are asking you to compete, then there is something that’s causing them to be interested—find out what that is!

As for my client, the customer told them exactly what they needed to do to win the business.  They won all the expansion business and are on the path to displace the competitor in the existing locations.  So far, they’ve collected $159 Million and expect to do a lot more.

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6 Comments
  1. Jeff S. Wiebe (@JeffSWiebe) permalink

    Another gem. Thanks Dave.

  2. Dave, we often talk and write about “putting aside all your passion and enthusiasm for your current solutions,” value proposition, features and other promises – sales stuff – without giving a simple clean replacement for that methodology. You do that in this post.

    Asking your client that question in some form or another, IMO, should be asked during the first meeting. “Please tell me what prompted you to have a meeting with me?” You certainly want to establish a foundation, some semblance of a budding relationship. As you said, the floodgates open and the buyer will virtually tell you how to sell them; they’ll tell you why, what and how they want to buy.

    This doesn’t guarantee a sale or promise an easy close. What it does is give you the bull’s eye to aim at. You may not be able to hit or even come close, but you’ll know whether you’re in the same ballpark or not. You’ll know whether to pursue or move on, and if you enter the chase, you’ll know how to prepare.

    But I think the most valuable thing we gain with this type of question is credibility, confidence and trust; the sales trifecta.

    When I finally learned to sit on the client’s side of the table, the hard way, I wondered why we were never trained to do so.

    • Gary, once again, you are absolutely right–you’ve provoked me into a follow up post to address this issue further. Thanks, as always!

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