It was a loss review, one of those very difficult discussions after a major–and surprising loss. I’d been invited by a client to participate and help analyze the loss. First, I have to congratulate them for conducting a review, too few organizations conduct these and use these for improvement.
But that’s not the point. During the review, one of the product management executives was really puzzled as the sales team explained the loss. At one point, exasperated, he said, “But we gave them everything they wanted……why did we lose?” He was frustrated and didn’t understand. They had met all the customer technical, business, even pricing requirements, but they still lost the order.
The account manager was equally frustrated in his response, but he captured the central issue very nicely, “But you don’t understand what we took them through before we finally gave them the solution they wanted! After that experience, why would you expect anyone to buy?”
It’s an important issue, particularly in very complex and “configurable” solutions. We aren’t selling a “catalog” or standard product. There are many complex options, tradeoffs, and alternatives the customer has to consider in finding a solution that meets their goals. Sometimes, we have to change our solution–providing certain technical capabilities or modifications, commit to future enhancements, modify some of our business processes, provide services to help the customer in implementation.
Providing solutions to complex business problems is often a back and forth between the customer and suppliers. The solution is being developed, commitments are being negotiated. It’s a difficult process in any case, but too often we put too many unreasonable hurdles in front of our sales people and customers, we take them through a buying experience that exhausts and frustrates them.
In the end, we’ve “given the customer everything they wanted,” but the process in getting to this point has been difficult, contentious, and in many cases, offensive to both the sales people and the customer. I’ve been in those meetings, the customer is challenged—not in a positive sense, but in a negative sense–“Why are you considering something so stupid and foolish?” (OK, I’m exaggerating, but not by much.) The back and forth, the delays, the questioning–not just for information but the questioning of motive, intent, and objectives. The constant justification the customer and the sales team have to provide to get a positive response from our companies is exhausting and painful.
And remember, the customer is going through the same process with each alternative they are considering.
In providing solutions to very complex problems, it’s critical to make sure we understand what the customer needs. We have to make sure we can deliver a solution that works, that we can support, and that is good business for us. But in the process, too often we forget the experience we are taking the customer through in providing solutions.
A colleague tracked an opportunity in her company. It was a fairly “normal” opportunity, a good sized deal. There wasn’t anything extraordinary, but there was a lot invovled in responding to the customer and proposing. In just this deal, she identified over 35 internal meetings, and 100’s of emails. You can imagine what that looked like from the customer’s perspective. You can imagine the frustration the sales people face in trying to manage their company’s response to the company–while still being competitive.
Having been on the “buying” side of some of these decisions, I sometimes feel as though my team is being asked to justify giving the vendor a chance to accept our money. The hassle factor to the customer (and the sales team) is so high, it starts causing the customer to consider, “Do I really want to do business with this supplier over the long term?”
Sometimes, we tend to think of the the customer buying experience (and even their earlier experiences when we are nurturing and prospecting) as different from the customer experience, that is, how we treat them after they have purchased. To a customer, it’s one continuous experience—with decision points along the way, something like, “Do I want to continue to subject myself to this??????”
I’ve described this as happening on very complex solution sales. It is a common challenge for these types of situations. At the same time, I see in simpler deals, sales people subjecting their customers to terrible buying experiences. Yes, eventually we give the customer what they want (and what we are happy with giving), but if the path to that outcome is too challenging, why should the customer buy?
By all means, give the customer what they want—it starts with an outstanding buying experience!
PS: My thanks to my good friend, @francineallaire. Our coffee the other day was a source of inspiration for many of this past week’s blogs! Thanks so much!