Last week, I met with a sales team I’d been coaching on a large opportunity. For the most part, they were doing everything right. They had focused on identifying all the critical business impact, change management, and related issues facing the customer. They had presented a business based solution, presenting a sound business case, great implementation plan, and a compelling reason for the customer to take action.
They had identified some potential legal and compliance issues that could have a serious impact on the customer—financially and within the perceptions of the community the customer served. They demonstrated how they would eliminate that exposure and protect the customer from legal actions.
As is usual with these situations, they struggled with the customer. They started with a strongly supportive, enthusiastic customer. Additionally, the CFO was positive and excited about what they were discussing. There was another competitor, but my client had, from the feedback provided by the customer, presented a superior solution.
The customer went through a small restructuring, a new decision maker came in, they met with him. He reported to the CFO and while the CFO was still supportive, he said the decision maker was the person my client should be working with.
The decision maker had little experience in the area my client was addressing. He was very direct in stating that his focus was on other parts of his function that he thought had higher priority. My client had a great strategy in stating they would “take this off his already loaded plate.” With great sensitivity, they outlined the problem with the legal/compliance exposure, suggesting eliminating that would free this new person up to focus on the issues they thought most critical.
Time after time, the customer responded, “I have too much on my plate, this area is not important to me, we aren’t going to do anything, but I do appreciate the work you are doing.”
The sales person kept politely replying, “We understand you have other priorities. We can minimize the time you need to spend on this issue. You will have to spend less time than you currently do by outsourcing the work to us.”
The customer responded, “I don’t have time to meet, the savings and benefit are inconsequential to me, I’ll be glad to look at it with you later.” Which was a surprise—they represented about 5 percent of his total operational budget.
The sales person, still being sensitive to the customer’s priority and time challenges, focused on the legal/compliance exposure. Politely outlining this exposure put the institution at great risk, from a financial point of view, from a legal expense point of view, from a management time point of view, and from a public perception view. He politely suggested we could eliminate this totally, asking for only 30 minutes of the customer’s time.
The customer kept saying—“this is not important, we will take the risk, I have other issues I want to focus on. Let’s work on this later.”
All the exchanges were polite and seemed genuine. The customer expressed his appreciation to the sales person, said he liked the persistence, he was very appreciative to the sensitivity to the compliance issues, but felt it was not so important and wanted to defer a decision. He said, “When I get a few things off my plate, I want to revisit this with you. I like what you have done, let’s just postpone things until I can focus on some other problems and wrestle them to the ground. Then let’s get back together and discuss your approach.”
We were on the verge of going back to the CFO who had asked us to work with this person. The principal concern was the legal/compliance issue. My client knew from other customers, that this could be devastating to the institution, they were concerned this new manager may not have understood the implications.
But first, the sales person takes one more try with the decision maker. This time, the decision maker had a piece of news for us. He said, “I’ve made a decision to bring another company in to solve this problem. They are starting to work on it now.”
The sales person was devastated, he tried to get some more insight, but the customer thanked him and hung up.
This brings us back to the review—we went through the typical things—were you continually checking to see if there were competitors, did the customer give you any indication he might have been doing something else, did he have a history with any of the competition, …….
I turned over every stone, I couldn’t find much that I would have changed about the sales approach—perhaps keeping the CFO more engaged, keeping the old customer—who was still at the institution in a different job engaged, ….
In the end though, we came to a conclusion, the customer misled the sales team—not just the sales person. Simply put, he told a series of lies.
I get really angry with this behavior.
I can understand, albeit reluctantly, a customer selecting a competitor. The competitor may have a better solution or may have just outsold me.
I can understand a customer just not liking us and telling us so. While I might not like it, I can go someplace else.
There are all sorts of reasons a customer may not want to do business with us—as hard as they are to swallow, we can always go someplace else.
The customer expects us to deal with them honestly and with integrity. They expect us to treat them with respect. They don’t want us to lie to them or mislead them.
Is it unfair to expect the same from the customer?