I recently wrote a post suggesting we “Stop Giving Customers Choices!” It’s stirred up some really great discussions. I thought I’d add another post to extend the discussion.
Giving our customers alternatives and choices early in the buying process is critical. It helps them assess alternatives, develop their own thinking about what they are trying to do and lock in on a plan. It helps us understand what they are trying to achieve and what solutions we might present that are best suited to helping them achieve their goals.
But if we reach the “decision-making point,” where the customer is making a selection and they are still asking for alternatives, there is a high likelihood they don’t have a plan. They haven’t really decided what they want to do. If they don’t know what they want to do, then we don’t know what they need or the best solution to fit their needs.
Buying is tougher on customers than it is on us. We are always concerned with the part of the buying process where they are evaluating vendors and making a choice about a solution. But we forget that buying involves so much more.
At it’s core, buying, at least for complex decisions, requires the customer to align the different interests, agendas, priorities of individuals and groups within their organization, agree on the problem, decide what they want to do about the problem, determine a solution, gain agreement about the solution, sell that solution within the organization and up the food chain, then implement the solution.
Typically, we only see a very small part of the process — the part that involves us.
With this as the backdrop, when a customer asks for a final proposal with a variety of alternatives (not implementation options), it’s a potential clue they have yet to lock in on a plan. They may not have figured out what they want to do, they may not have aligned everyone around a common goal.
Perhaps they think, if they have a number of choices from each vendor, it will help them lock in on what they want to do.
In my experience, it only confuses them more, delaying a decision, and recycling everyone through the buying process.
Perhaps rather than responding to our customers’ requests for alternative proposals, we best serve our customers by helping them with their buying process—not their solution selection. Perhaps we help them reach a decision by helping them to decide what they want to do-specifically, helping them to identify the process to reach a decision, and helping them develop and execute their plan–not only to buy, but to implement and achieve the desired outcomes.to help them develop a plan.
It’s tough to do this in the “proposal” stage of a process. Everyone is impatient for a “decision,” and to move forward.
That’s why it’s so much more powerful to get engaged in the customer buying process much earlier. Rather than focusing our efforts solely on convincing them of the value of our products, we serve them better by helping them develop and navigate the complexity of buying.
Does your customer have a plan? Are you helping them develop their plan? Are you helping them implement the plan?