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Sitting On The Customer’s Side Of The Desk

by David Brock on May 12th, 2011

Not long ago a sales person called be with an idea that I thought was interesting.  He was “pitching” a concept, it was a little intriguing but I had to interrupt him, saying,  “What you are saying is very interesting to me, however this is the issue we face with our customers, here’s how we see things, this is what we’d like to achieve.”

The sales person responded, “We really see the issues as this, and this is how we approach it.”  I responded, “I understand, but we may be a little different, I’m interested in what you are saying, but can you present it in a context that is meaningful to me?”

The sales person responded, “We really see the issues as this, and this is how we approach it.”

I was forced to respond, “I guess we see things a little differently, and I don’t know how to bridge the gap.  Thanks for the call.”

This may be an extreme example, but I think unwittingly, too many sales people do the same thing.  While we may have great solutions for our customers, we can only see them and present them based on our point of view.  We can’t see them through the customer’s eyes and present them in ways that are meaningful to the customer.

Rather than going to the customer’s side of the desk, presenting things in a context that is meaningful to them, we force them to come to our side of the desk and see things the way we want them to see them.  There are all sorts of ways we may do this, consciously or unconsciously.  It may be the way we frame questions, it may be responses about what our product does, rather than how our customer achieves what they want with our product.  It may be as simple as the words–or buzzwords and acronyms we may use.

Selling is much more difficult when we force the customer to come to our side of the desk.  What’s in it for them, why should they invest the time?  We are much more effective when we are sitting on the same side of the desk as the customer, when we can express things in their terms, when we can use models–their models–to communicate more effectively to them.

Some might say, perhaps we should meet somewhere in the middle.  While that might be a reasonable approach in negotiating, I think it is unreasonable in getting the customer’s buy in and active engagement.  If we are not sitting on the customer’s side of the desk, dealing with their reality, biases, models, constraints, our likelihood of success will be very low.

How are you engaging your customers now?  Which side of the desk are you sitting on?  Are you seeing the issues through their eyes?  Are you presenting the solution in a context that’s meaningful to them?

The sales person who called me could have had a sale.  I was very interested and intrigued with the solution he was presenting, I wasn’t willing to go to his side of the desk, and he wasn’t willing to come to mine.  His loss, there are other suppliers I can go to.

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  1. Great blog, Dave. I really don’t have anything to add other than I completely agree.

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