It used to be that sales people were the principal source of information about products and solutions for customers. We spent a lot of time educating our customers about the capabilities of our products, company, and value of our solutions. There weren’t many other easy sources of information for customers to learn about our products or the alternatives. They could look at analyst reports–that is if analysts covered our products, they might find a current user–but that was probably a reference we gave them, they’d certainly get views from our competitors, but in all this the sales person was the primary source of information for the customer.
The web has changed all of that. Customers and prospects have access to all sorts of information, views, and opinions about our products and the alternatives. They can thoroughly research our websites, reviewing all the marketing and related materials we make available. Hopefully, they’ve been part of our nurturing and other marketing programs. They’ve done the same with our competitors. They have participated in discussions with users and others in the social community. They have probably been overwhelmed with a lot of information —good and bad— about our solutions and those of our competitors.
Too often, by the time sales people are engaged, the customer already has pre-formed opinions and perceptions about their needs and the right solutions to address those needs. As sales people, we often dive in, responding based on where the customer is at and moving forward from there.
In a great webcast today from Sirius Decisions, James Ninivaggi @jninivaggi, made a great point. We need to understand how our customer arrived at their current understanding of their needs and perceptions of our solutions.
It’s a fantastic point that all sales professionals need to remember. Understanding how customers have gotten to where they are, understanding the process they have gone through to shape their priorities and define their needs is critical. Understanding their perceptions of our and our competitors solutions is vital. These all provide us critical context in shaping our sales strategies to win.
The customer may have overlooked some critical issues that should be considered, they may have a misunderstanding about our capabilities or solutions, they may have just wrong information (though it is very difficult to believe anything on the web could ever be wrong). Until we understand how they’ve gotten to where they are, how they have reached certain conclusions, we are neither serving them as best possible–that is creating the greatest value, nor are positioning ourselves as competitively as possible.
By understanding how they’ve gotten to this point in their needs analysis and in researching the solutions, we know what we may have to re-shape. We may have to go to the customer suggesting they may want to look at things differently. We may want to make them realize they have overlooked somethings critical to achieving their goals, or that they may have a misunderstanding. We may have to correct mis-impressions or re-educate them.
By understanding how they’ve gotten to this point, we can create greater value in helping facilitate the next steps in their buying process. After all, we can bring great value because we probably have greater experience in this than they do (unless this is a transactional/commodity sale in B2B).
If we don’t take the time to ask, “How did you arrive at this need definition and these perceptions of the solution,” we are not positioning ourselves to be most responsive to the customer or improving our ability to win.
Do you take the time to understand this, or to you simply respond to what the customer has asked and charge forward?
(My thanks to John for a very provocative webcast!)