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Can You Change Your Customer? Can You Change Yourself?

by David Brock on March 14th, 2016

Once we eliminate all the fancy words and hand waving, sales is about getting our customers to change.

We try to get them to switch suppliers/vendors.

We try to get them to change their current operations and procedures, improving the results they produce.

We try to get them to take advantage of opportunities they are missing, helping them grow and compete.

We try to get them to overcome the inertia of the everyday, getting them to do something different.

Whatever we sell, what we really are selling is change.

Sometimes the customer starts the ball rolling, coming to us, “We need to change, we need to do something different, can you help us?”  In this case, they’ve initiated the change agenda, but we still have a lot of work, perhaps changing their minds about the solution approach, changing their attitudes/perceptions about us versus the alternatives.  We have to get them to change, but it’s more about the solutions approach or their partner in implementing the change.

Increasingly, our job of selling change starts much earlier–initiating the whole process.  Shaking them up, disrupting them, getting them to see how much not changing impacts them.

People fear change, particularly when it is imposed on them and they don’t understand why.  If we are to be successful in overcoming that fear, we need to help them understand and own it for themselves.  It has to be about them.

People resist change because there is always risk and unknowns.  It’s less risky to do nothing.  At least until the consequences of doing nothing exceed the risks of change.

We help our prospects and customers understand and embrace change.

How ironic, our jobs are about driving change, yet we change so little ourselves.

No that veneer of technology that we apply to make it look like we have changed doesn’t count.

Too many of us make selling not about change, but about our products and services, just like we’ve always done.  We leave the part about “figuring out the change” up to the customers.

Too many still don’t understand what customers value and how to create and deliver value to customers.  Yet until customer recognize and embrace the value, we can’t be successful.

Too many of us are still doing the same old things, the same old way—yet we want our customers to change.

If we can’t change, then how will we ever be successful in getting our customers to embrace change?


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  1. A couple of thoughts popped in to my head as I read your blog here Dave…

    1 – Selling, when described this way, and we all recognise it for what it is – almost everybody would agree this is a reasonable description of ‘selling’… anyway, it just feels that this is all about us getting the client to change, whether it really is best for the client or not…

    Sure, the client has to see the value, etc etc – but this still to me feels like we go and ‘do’ something TO the client…

    If we were truly, utterly putting the needs of the client first, and we did something WITH the client, they may see a more truer or accurate picture of the value that’s available for them… we simply take a reasonable share of that value we created together with them…

    2 – risk – you state, and I agree, that a client won’t necessarily change until the risk of status quo, of not changing, is greater than the risk of change…

    I feel there is some important nuance often overlooked when this topic is phrased along these lines. For me the missing and critical nuance is around how this risk is PERCEIVED by the client… ask 5 people to assess the risk of a particular event happening (or not) and you’ll likely get 7 different answers – why? Because the individuals perceive things differently, even if they appear to perceive things the same… 1 person will see a particular risk factor as more or less important that others, by a little amount to be sure… similarly with the likelihood in his/her mind about it actually happening or not – this can be all that is needed to tip the assessment one way or the other, away from the assessment of another person who on the face of things, sees the situation the same way…

    Implicit in this, I believe, is a major emotional/subjective component. A manipulative sales person will play to this, perhaps overstepping the ethics line… we even have a term for it in sales – ‘FUD’ – Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt. These are all legitimate though.

    So I wonder, are we really selling change in that clean, simply expressed sense, or are we selling a more nuanced change – the change in the client’s PERCEIVED degree of risk about the things that matter to them (and with a nod to Challenger/insight – in all this we may change WHAT they see as the key risks, even if the LEVEL of perceived risk remains the same…)

    Anyway, just some thoughts that came to me as I mulled your post and a recent as well as up-coming client conversation in my mind, sipping a coffee somewhere in the Netherlands…

    • Martin, as usual, you really get me thinking about issues I may be a little too casual in addressing.

      1. At the risk of getting into a semantic discussion, I think in many cases we do start the engagement doing something TO the customer–not in a manipulative sense but to start the collaborative process. We need to capture the customer’s interest, create an awareness, provoke new thinking about doing something differently, solving a problem they hadn’t been aware of, pursuing new opportunities. The point you make, which is so critical, is that needs to translate very quickly to doing something WITH the customer. They need to own it for themselves and want to change. If we can’t make that transition, we remain pushy sales people. So it’s that transition from TO to WITH which causes the magic to happen.
      2. All the time, we are actually focused on changing perceptions. So we have to address those perceptions. One of the things you touch on, that most sales people are very insensitive to, is personal risk. We tend to address business risk pretty well, but we don’t pay enough attention to the personal risks an individual may fear in any change. Until we address those head on, we can’t be successful.

      Thanks, as always for making me think. I hope you aren’t at one of “Those” Coffee Shops in the Netherlands 😉

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