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Being Too Smart About Our Solutions

by David Brock on August 4th, 2015

Not long ago, I had a fascinating call with a sales person.  He was very knowledgeable about the issues and challenges customers in his target segments faced.

Turns out, he had spent much of his career in “operational roles” in his target markets.  Stated differently, he had held the same jobs and faced the same issues as the people he now called on.

This experience gave him great perspective into the issues his customer faced.  It also enabled him to be very articulate about the value of his solutions.

But as we discussed the deal, I got more and more uncomfortable with what he was doing.  Finally, I asked, “How do you know these are the issues they face?”

I could tell he was trying to be polite, but there was the slight roll of his eyes, a flash of annoyance on his face.  He said, “Dave, I’ve spent 17 years working in various roles in this market space.  I know this particular customer very well.  These are the issues they are facing.”

I responded, “Have they told you this?”

He quickly said, “They don’t have to tell me, all I had to do was walk around their facility, ask a few questions, and I know these are the issues they are facing.  They absolutely have to make this change, and they will only be effective if they use our solutions.

But I kept probing, “I know you are probably 200% right.  But do they know it?  Have they seen the same issues themselves?  Have they come to the same conclusion?”

I went on to say, “The problem is that you are too smart and too experienced about this stuff.  As a result, you know the problems and the solutions, without even engaging the customer in discussing them.  Even though you are probably dead-on in your assessment, that’s your assessment–your opinion.  It’s not the customers.”

The problem this sales person has, which many others also have, is that he was so knowledgeable, he assumed that if he saw and understood the issues, everyone else would see and understand the same thing.  This ends up being a huge error.

The customer may not see them.  They may see them, but interpret the impact in a very different way.  They may even see them the exact same way we do.

But until it comes out of their mouths.  Until, they have described the issues, the urgency, the impact and need to change in their terms, they will not own it.

This sales person could tell them what they were facing and why they needed to change.  But hearing a sales person telling something, versus the customer discovering it for themselves are very different.

Intellectually, the customer may “get it.”  But it’s still our perspective, not their own.  They may agree with it, but it still doesn’t have the impact it could have.

There’s a certain magic to the words, the frustration, the expression of a need to change, the identification of goals or where they want to be, when it comes from the customer.  They have an emotional as well as intellectual attachment and ownership to the issues.  It is now their issue, their goal, their need to change, not something imposed, however smartly, by someone else.

Until it comes from their mouths, it isn’t real–even though it may be, it isn’t theirs–which it must be to drive change.

I think this is also the area where a lot of sales people struggle with providing customers insight or teaching them.  They confuse being able to provide a superior intellectual understanding of what the customer should be doing, with the process of guiding the customer to discovery, ownership, and action.

Sometimes being too smart, gets in our way.  We assume everyone thinks the same way, so we don’t address the issues head on.  Or if they don’t get it we assume telling them gets them on board.

Don’t be so smart that you’ve lost the customer.

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