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Buying Has Nothing To Do With The Product We Sell!

by David Brock on December 22nd, 2011

We constantly get it wrong, as sales people we focus on our products and what we are selling.  As “sophisticated” sales people, we wrap some nice language around it and focus on the solution we sell, hiding the fact that we are focused on selling a product. 

The real problem is we are focused on selling.  Our customers should be focused on buying, but they really aren’t, they’re focused on solving problems or addressing opportunities.  Most of our customers’ difficulty in solving problems or addressing opportunities has nothing to do with the solution.   But, again, that’s what we focus on.

Here’s what our customers are struggling with:

  • Recognizing there’s a problem or opportunity.  There’s a lot of talk about Challenger Selling.  This is where Challengers shine, helping customers recognize there is a problem or opportunity, helping them explore things they may have never considered.
  • Understanding the magnitude/impact of the problem or opportunity.  There is are consequence to everything.  Money being lost, deals being lost, customers being lost, operational inefficiencies, new revenue opportunities, new growth opportunities, new markets.  All of these have some sort of value or impact to the organization.  Something that impacts the top or bottom line.  Customers may recognize they have a problem or opportunity, but may not know–or may lose site of the impact.  Sometimes they are blind, sometimes, like the frog in a pot of hot water, they have become so accustomed to something, they forget there’s something better to do.  Great sales people help customers discover this—and keep customers focused on addressing this through the sales cycle.  Customers forget, they get caught up in the act of buying, forgetting what they were trying to achieve.  Without sales constantly mainting this focus, deals get off track.  They slow down, they drag on.
  • Deciding they want to do something about it.  Everyday, we live with problems, somehow they’re not important enough for us to do something about them.  Likewise, we forego opportunities, perhaps because we have too much on our plates.  The reality is there are too many problems and too many opportunities for our customers to address, some they live with, some they forego.  Even though the customer recognizes these and their impact, nothing happens until the situation becomes intolerable.  Individuals and organizations don’t have the capacity to solve more than a few things or address a few opportunities at a time.  Deciding to do something and getting it to the top of their priorities is critical.  It can’t be something the customer wants to do, it must be something the customer must do.  Our job as sales people is to get the customer to decide they want to do something and get it to the top of their hit parade.
  • Socializing the issues within the organization, gaining support for taking action.  It’s very seldom our customer acts on their own–even at the very top of the organization.  Other people need to be involved in the decision and the implementation.  Identifying everyone that needs to be involved, engaging them in the process, getting alignment around the definition of the problem or opportunity, getting everyone to have ownership and a sense of urgency around taking action is critical.
  • Gaining the support of executive management to invest in solving the problem or address the opportunity.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch–actually nothing’s free.  Solving problems addressing opportunities require investment on the part of the customer.  It’s not just money—though that is often a big part of it, but it’s time, resources.  It involves choices, of all the investments that can be made, which will the executives choose and which will they fore go or defer.  Unless we are dealing at the very top of the organization, many of our customer don’t recognize this must be done or don’t know how to do it.  They invest a lot of their time and our time, take the request forward, only to have it rejected.  Often they’re fearful of going to executive management, they don’t want to look bad, they don’t want to fail.  Here’s where the sales person can really help, making the customer recognize the importance of executive support, building it from the beginning and maintaining it through the whole process.  Helping them develop their arguments and become comfortable in presenting to senior management, helping them to persuade and “sell” their idea are areas where sales people create great value—after all, that’s what we are supposed to be really good at.  Even at the executive level, helping them understand the investments in addressing these problems or opportunities is critical–that funding and resources must be made available.
  • Choosing among alternative solutions.  This can be very tough, there are lots of great alternatives.  It’s difficult to differentiate between many solutions, or any could be equally good.  Which enables the customer to achieve their goals most quickly, at the lowest risk, maximizing the return on their total investment (not the price of the product they are buying).  This is our sweet spot, this is where we focus, this is what we have been trained to do. 
  • Making it work, achieving the results.  The easy part is the buying—and that’s complicated enough.  The customer still has all the hard work of producing the results, of making things work.  By now, the sales person has accepted the PO, collected their commission and walked away.  The sales person’s job does not stop with the PO.  It only stops when the customer has achieved their goals.  This doesn’t mean the sales person does the work, but the sales person must be accountable for assuring the customer achieves success.  Without this, they will never be a reference, they will never buy again.

As sales people, we focus tend to focus on the smallest and easiest part of what the customer is trying to do—choosing among alternative solutions.  If we really want to make things happen, if we really want to maximize our ability to win, our value to the customer, and our differentiation, the job is much bigger.

Are you stepping up to it?  Are you doing your real job?  Or are you just providing data so they can make a selection?

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  1. So right on and why I believe the best book on understanding buying is “A seat at the table” by Marc Miller. When we understand what value prompts our customers to buy, then 90% of the battle is won.

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith

  2. Hey Dave,

    I like this post because it points out a major issue in many sales environments – buyers are going through a lot more than just searching for answers to business issues. Answers are great, but knowing the right information does not always solve the problem. First they have to figure out how to bring the solution in without disrupting all the other “spinning plates” or else it’s never going to happen.

    Good form,

    Don F Perkins

  3. Dave,
    I couldn’t agree more, especially with your last point. Too often salespeople stop after making the sale and walk away thinking their job is complete. But if they were to focus on building relationships and helping our customers, guiding them after the sale would be a priority for them. And you’re right, usually references are based on how much a salesperson was helpful after selling a product/service, and not how well they sold something.


    • Thanks John, too often sales people are “hit and run.” They wonder why the customer is reluctant to do business the last time. Thanks for the great comment!

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