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“I’ve Never Ever Sold A Computer Or Piece Of Software”

by David Brock on October 3rd, 2013

Many of you know that I spent much of my career in IBM, starting as a sales person moving into the management ranks.  Over that period of time, I think either the teams I led or I collected billions in revenue from the computers and software we shipped to our customers.

In spite of those billions in revenue, I never sold a computer or software system.

What I sold was:

  • The ability to cut years and $10’s of millions in development costs in designing a new airplane or car.
  • The ability to reduce waste and scrap in the foundry process by millions each year.
  • The ability of a tier 1 supplier in the automotive industry to keep a $107 million a year contract with a key customer.
  • The ability for a very senior executive to keep his job.
  • The ability for a group of mid level managers to get their boss off their back, and get home at a reasonable hour.

What I sold varied depending on who the customer was, and what they were trying to achieve.

But 100% of the time, the purchase order I received was for computers, software, and services.

In reality, the customer is never buying what we make and ship.  That may be what they pay for, but it’s not what they are buying.

So if we only equip ourselves with our product brochures.  If all we can talk about is the wonderful things our products do.  If those become the things we “sell,” then it’s pretty hard finding customers that want to buy those things.  To be successful selling, we have to equip ourselves with knowledge, skills, capabilities to understand what our customers are buying and an ability to demonstrate that what we sell is aligned with what they want to buy.

We’re only successful selling if we are selling what our customers are buying.  During my time at IBM, my customers weren’t buying computers, software, or services.  I suspect it’s true of IBM today–as well as all of its competitors. 

What are you selling?


From → Transformation

  1. David,

    You make a good point.

    If the customer knows what you are selling than they really don’t need you. This is what separates a good sales person from an average sales person. A new book by Tyler Cohen just came out talks about that “average is over.” This applies to sales, too.

  2. Spot on, Dave!

    It’s so true, customers don’t buy a product or a service. What they buy, is the value the products and services create for them in terms of measurable (business) outcomes.

    If sales messaging is still focused on what products ARE and what they DO, sales people may get a big problem, sooner or later.

    Talking about what products and services MEAN – specifically – for the specific customer is key to success -> and that’s what we call GoToCustomer, right?

  3. Brian MacIver permalink

    Dave, thanks for this blog.

    It really started me thinking!

    Janet Spirer @saleshorizons reminded us [Sales] of the importance of solid basics, and you Dave, today are doing exactly the same thing.
    30 years ago I evaluated Strategic Selling from M&H, it was, like the Curate’s egg, good in parts!
    In 1987, I followed up with Conceptual Selling again from M&H, a less popular training session, which somehow got less attention.

    Yet in 1987 M&H talked about exactly the point you are making, and it is just as relevant today!
    “No one buys a product per se. [Computers or Software]
    What is bought is:
    what the customer thinks the product will do for them!”

    They go on to say:
    This idea of what products DO,
    that customers want DONE, is the CONCEPT.

    Customer’s already have a ‘concept’ of what they really need.
    “Concepts” are unique, and different, to each individual.
    “Concepts” are shaped by the Customer’s beliefs, values and attitudes.

    Sometimes, before you even start selling,
    you have to influence the Customer’s beliefs, values or attitudes, before you can sell to their concepts!

    Today, we try to do that with an Insight.

    • Great view of the hierarchy of how we can engage the customer: Insight, Concept, Solution. As always, love your comments Brian!

  4. Peter Gruits permalink

    Thanks for taking the time to share a good insight.

  5. Love this message Dave.

    My first 6 figure deal was almost 200K in 1980. A huge software deal at the time for utility products where the ASP was 35-40K. I stumbled around and figured out that I could help the plant GM defer a 5M capital expenditure. I went from being kicked around by the tech services guys to going to dinner with the GM and his boss.

    That experience informed my thinking for the rest of my career. We have “selling power” when our focus is on Tamara’s “GoToCustomer” instead of on what our stuff does.

    Great article, thanks.

  6. Customers do not want any product or service but a solution to their problems. The ‘bill of material’ could have software, hardware, cables, sockets, nuts & bolts… but its ultimately the ‘value’ what the customers want and that is what sells.

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