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Solving Our Problems

by David Brock on May 16th, 2013

I’ve been having trouble with a sales person.  He’s someone I’ve done business with a few times before.  It started a few months ago.

He sold my wife her last car.  He knows her lease is coming to an end in July.  A few months ago, he politely called me (wonder why he didn’t call my wife) asking our intentions at the end of the lease.  I told him, “She loves the car, she’ll probably buy the current model at the end of her current lease.  Why don’t you ask her?”  He politely asked, “Would you make sure to call me when you want to get the new car?”  I responded we would and we concluded the conversation.

A couple days later, he calls me.  I noticed it was the end of the month.  “We have a great promotion on that model of car right now!  You can get the new model with no penalty……..”  I knew he wanted to make a deal now, I knew he had to make his numbers.  I thanked him for the call, but said that we really didn’t want to replace her current car until July.  I said, “Please, we’ll talk to you in July, don’t worry.  Just don’t bother us until then.”  I still wondered why he was talking to my wife–who is the decision maker for this purchase.  But I figured I was saving her some aggravation.

Guess what, toward the end of the next month, there was a replay of the same conversation of the previous month.  This time, I was a little less polite.  “We will talk to you when we are going to buy a car.  I just don’t want you bothering me until then.  Please don’t call us until July!”

Guess what happened the end of last month?  Yes, the phone rang, I picked it up, the moment I heard his voice I interrupted.  “How many times do I have to tell you this.  We are not interested in a car until July.  I’ve told you this several times before, but you are ignoring what we want.  So here’s the bottom line, I don’t want to hear from you again.  We will not buy a car from you.  We will find another dealership.  If I ever hear from you again, I will call the owner of the dealership!”

While this is a bit dramatic, it’s not all that uncommon.  The problem was, this sales person was more concerned about solving his problem–making his number, than he was about solving our problem.  In the end, his focus on his issues caused him to lose the whole deal.

Too often, we find ourselves in similar positions.  We’re behind on our numbers, our managers are pressuring us, our pipeline’s a light, we need to make something happen.  We start focusing on our problem–we need to close deals.

It’s all about understanding what’s really important, focusing all our attention and energy on that–eliminating all other distractions.

Our job as sales professionals is to maximize our value creation and differentiation with current and prospective customers.  The moment our focus shifts from this  —  we actually start reducing our ability to be successful in achieving our objectives.

It happens in many ways, often in just small things, sometimes unconsciously.

In the example above, the sale person had created, through past relationships and attentiveness, enough value that we intended to buy the car from him.  Once he knew that, his goal shifted to buying the car on a schedule that served him rather than serving us.  He has lost our business (and referral business forever).

The problem about pushing for the order prematurely, is obvious–we know how that works.

But there are other things that go wrong when we focus on solving our problems:

Our funnels are light, we need more in our funnel–we set out to solve our funnel/pipeline problem.  We relax our qualification criteria, we fill our funnel, we’ve solved that problem—but the quality of the funnel has plummeted.  Our win rates go down, our ability to connect in relevant ways with the customer goes down (because we’re chasing the wrong customer).  Customers don’t want to see us.  We try to fix this by casting an even wider net.   We go into a death spiral.

We don’t have enough time to do everything that we need to.  Rather than focusing and eliminating time drains, we solve our problem, we don’t prepare for calls and meetings with the customer.  We waste the customer’s time, hurt our relationship.  We fail to accomplish what we should, so we have to schedule another call to correct the situation—creating more pressure on our time.  We may thrash about trying to do more stuff, but the quality of our activity is bad, it’s unfocused, we end up wasting the customer time and ours.

Pretty soon, all these things pile up on us—we’re too busy, we’re chasing deals—bad deals, we aren’t closing business, we aren’t creating differentiated value for the customer, we aren’t making our numbers–which was the problem we were trying to solve.

It seems counterintuitive, but we always solve our problems by focusing on the customer and solving the customer’s problems.  But there are some caveats to this:

  • Are we working with the right customers and prospects?
  • Do they have a real problem to solve and a great sense of urgency in solving their problem?
  • Do we have a superior solution to their problems?  Can we differentiate our offering in ways meaningful and valuable to them?
  • Does the customer consider us a serious alternative to solving their problem?

 If we focus on these customers–or finding them, it’s amazing, it always enables us to solve our problems.  We stop wasting time on chasing bad deals (and annoying those customers).  We move the customer to buying, not because we need the order, but they need to achieve the outcomes.

Narrowing our focus, increasing our ability to spend time with a high quality set of opportunities, intensifying our conversations around what they want to achieve and assuring they “buy it,” always produce outcomes that solve our problems.

  1. Tim Foster permalink

    Thanks Dave – we have all had that problem in our Car buying lives. As you say it can lead to a downward spiral in sales if you don’t focus on the customer and their needs. A phrase we use here is ” the impact on the customer of a bad buying decision is usually greater than the impact on the sales person of a lost sale” – this should help to keep people focused on the customer. Thanks for the great blog. Tim

    • Tim, thanks so much for the comment. I’ve heard Donal make that statement before–it’s simply brilliant. Watch for a post;-)

  2. Dave – The part about this kind of thing that infuriates me every time I encounter this kind of thing (and it’s happened twice to me in the last couple of weeks) is that these guys are the ones that make it hard on the rest of us that are trying to do it right. It’s really interesting to ask a non-sales group of execs for their immediate one-word reactions to “salesman” – try it, you won’t get one positive response. And these clowns are the ones that cause that. Great post, and right on.


  3. I did a bit of work on Contract Renewals for a Client last year. I asked over 100 Clients who had not renewed, why not?
    I had the usual answers , 13 said “and because the Salesperson ‘bothered’ me for the renewal”

    In-house, they thought this might be a ‘skill’ problem.

    Or, it may be the CRM, which insists on “repeated” calls when you label the pending Contract Renewal as “undecided”.

    Have a look at your Sales Force Automation,
    is it Driving Sales or ‘driving’ Customers away?

    • It’s something too many sales people do, unwittingly–by being unconscious, but it has a deadly impact on what customers think. It would be so simple, if we put ourselves in the customers’ shoes and looked at it from their point of view. I bet, the majority of the 100 you surveyed would have renewed, if they were approached differently and understood the WIIFM for them.

      Thanks Brian

      (BTW, I’m getting more tutorials on differentiating sand. I’ll have to choose another example in the future 😉

  4. Ray Leger permalink

    One thing I can attest to is that in the beginning of any sales career, numbers are going to be hard to meet unless you’re either in a virgin industry, or a virgin territory with a new product. But over time, if you’re consistently giving great service to your clients, which in turn don’t go to the competition. Going to the competition could be a gamble on service they may not match that you already give….

    So long term, I never had issues making numbers, because my clients always came back to me…even some waiting in the showroom for over an hour, simply because “Ray knows my story and my issues”.

    Trying to sell with “commission breath” is the same as selling with bad breath. The client smells it, feels the pressure, and if he does buy, it will be the last time. They don’t want to have a repeat experience.

    I have found sometimes the best way to get the clients to come in for deadlines, is simply mention by email, or phone “it might not be for you, but here’s a new promotion/product but the price is limited till (date)” That will push the ones that are close to doing an upgrade/renewal anyway. The others, weren’t interested in the deal in the first place if the time limit doesn’t push them.

    • Ray, I love the term “Commission Breath,” laughed for a few minutes when I read it. Thanks for the great comment!

  5. Dave, so many important themes here.

    At the end of the day, sales reps (and the companies they work for) get into desperation mode to make the number for the current period because they don’t have enough quality, qualified opportunities in the pipeline. In my estimation, the largest single contributing factor to that is not gaining the prospect’s attention at the initial point of sales engagement. You have written great stuff on this…

    – having insight that is meaningful and specific to the customer
    – being provocative
    – recognizing it is about customer value, not sales value
    – and more.

    We do those things as sales reps (and as companies) and our pipelines will be bigger with better opportunities, our close rates will be better, our “return to buy more” rates will improve, we won’t lose so many deals to “no decision and the competition”, and more.

    And we won’t be in the lousy place of trying to make our numbers out of insufficient opportunity…a place that is demeaning.

    BTW, those execs that Andy refers to, the ones who have negative reaction to the word “salesman”. They wouldn’t have anything to eat if somebody didn’t sell something. Just sayin’.

    Also, love the term “commission breath”. Imagine if we had “customer focus breath”!

  6. Gerry van der Merwe permalink

    Dave, I agree with most of the comments on this one! Question though is, if this dealership was one of our coaching clients, how would we coach around this? Someone once said the best way to increase sales is to make the sale you were going to make next month, this month – and i guess that’s what this sales person might be trying to do? It would serve him better if he was thinking “what problems can I solve for my customers this month instead of next month?”

    The challenge though is how do we help him to help you (the customer) to perceive a WIFM for yourself? What about this tactic?

    I would suggest that at the very first call when you (the customer) indicated that it is likely to happen but only at the end of the lease was the time to prepare for the “close” or set you up to receive another call from him. Instead of asking you to phone him when you or your wife decides to buy the new car get your permission to be contacted if circumstances change and could be of benefit to you (the customer?)

    In other words help our coaching client to help their customers to solve next month’s problems, this month?

    What do you think?

    From a Six Sigma perspective it would be interesting to take the problem of either pressure at month end or low quality pipelines and walk through the DMAIC methodology and maybe apply the fish bone problem solving tool?

    Regards, Gerry

    • Gerry, you cover a lot here. I only provided a small part of the story. When this cycle started, the sales person was trying to show an economic advantage to accelerating my buying process. I’ll leave to the side the fact the economic advantage was really and economic wash—it just got my wife into a new car sooner. This is a training and coaching problem that is easily solved. What I didn’t say in the post, is in my mind there were major timing issues, compelled me not to accelerate the purchase (and economic-tax consequences) that would impact me if I did. I explained these to the sales person, reassuring him that I would buy from him at the appointed time. At the same time, the Brand–Lexus called me, asking my buying intentions, offering me the same deal. I explained the situation to them, they agreed and they also said they would pass it on to the dealer and the dealer sales person who I named.

      3 days after these conversations, the same dealer sales person called, ignoring our previous conversation, ignoring the guidance from Lexus (he had received those call notes), trying to convince me to accelerate my purchase. I patiently re-explained, my problem could only be solved in a certain month, not earlier, perhaps later. I asked if he understood, he did. Then we went into the subsequent death spiral.

      Lean and Six Sigma instructs us to fully understand what customers value. We can create great value solving the customer problem next month, this month–if that’s an element of what they value. In this case, solving my problem in 5 months–5 months earlier, 4 month earlier, 3 months earlier had significant negative consequences to me. But he chose to ignore these.

      In the very first call, I said “I am very likely to buy from you.” We went through our conversation and I asked him, “Please call me at this time (5 months later), and this is what I will be looking for when you call me.” So I helped him set up the close. He would have gotten the order had he followed the process, had he listened to my issues, had he understood what was value and what wasn’t value. Instead, he chose to focus on when he needed the order, and each time masked it in an false economic argument and value proposition—the only value really was, getting a bright shiny new car sooner, with no financial penalty from the dealership–ignoring the financial penalties I might suffer otherwise.

      So in coaching him. I might first say: Understand the customer’s total problem and define value in the context of the customer’s total problem, not just the part of the problem you solve. If you can solve my next month’s problem this month, with a superior total value proposition, then I would be a fool not to buy. Listen to the customer and really validate the real problem, not what you want the problem to be (get a bright shiny car sooner and accelerate his commission income). Finally, don’t talk past the close. He had in fact closed me (or rather I closed myself) in the very first call. But he ignored that.

      Interestingly, the brand, Lexus, got it. I am now in that “5th month.” Last week, I got a communication from them, “We spoke to you on this date, understood your requirements and are following up. Can we help you buy a new vehicle….” the brand will get my business, the dealership will possibly get my business (I’m hesitant, because the sales person’s problem may also be a reflection of his management’s problems), the sales person will never get my business.

      Does this make sense?

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