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The Customer’s Responsibility Is To Solve Their Problem

by David Brock on April 7th, 2015

I just saw a tweet from Andy Paul caught my eye, “The buying cycle has six steps, but in reality prospects have only one task to accomplish:  buying the right product or service. #sales”

Andy’s a super smart guy, we are usually absolutely aligned in our point of view, but in this case, I couldn’t disagree more.

The customer’s sole responsibility is to achieve their business objectives and goals, whether it’s keeping their operations running smoothly or changing to improve what they are currently doing.

Buying the right product or service may be an aspect of the changes that need to be made, but usually, it’s just one component of a whole series of things the customer has to make happen to achieve their goals.

Consequently, the customer is concerned about a whole lot of other stuff, and making the right product selection often pales in comparison to the change, change management, implementation, schedule management, resource management, and risk they might undertake.

Let’s examine a few examples:

In semiconductor manufacturing, typically bringing a brand new technology to the market involves investments of Billions.  Constructing a new fab costs a lot, the equipment purchased to help produce the new semiconductors, collectively reaches hundreds of millions to billions.

Qualifying the plant, “debugging” it, bringing it online is takes more time and hundreds of millions in investment.

All the time, the customer is managing risk around a new technology — Will customers buy it?  Can we produce it with satisfactory yields? And the decisions/risks go on.

From a single purchase decision point of view, it can be very significant to a vendor.  Working with one client, a number of years ago, the deal from their perspective was $150 Million plus.  It was the single most important deal to the client, but it was just a small part of thousands of things that had to be put in place by the customer.

In another example, a client was implementing a new CRM system.  Between subscription costs, implementation, and ongoing support, they would be investing over $25M in the system.

But the real reason for implementing the system, was it was a small component in a massive restructuring of their sales, marketing, and go to customer strategies, all oriented at driving Billions in increased revenue over several years.

Finally, in another project, a client was selling embedded components–insulators, shielding, antennas to a major mobile handset manufacturer.  Any single component, cost fractions of a penny, collectively they represented a few dollars in each handset.  But when measured across the millions of phones that would be sold, it represented millions in revenue for my client.

As important as it was to them, it was just a small part of the customer’s concern in bringing this new device to the market.  They had hundreds of other components, software/firmware design, building an efficient manufacturing process, building the marketing programs to drive the high demand for the new handsets on the market.

The purchase, while important to my client, was just one small component of a lot of things that had to go right for their customer.

These are dramatic cases of very big deals, but I’ve used them to help illustrate a point.  These deals–any deal are important to us.  We need them to make our numbers.

But just because they are important to us, we have to look at them in the context of the overall project the customer is undertaking.  Managing the many things that need to happen in a project, whatever that project is the customer’s job.

Even teams working on smaller aspects of the project have more to do then to make a buying choice between us and an alternative.  They have to coordinate with other teams, making other choices, all coming together at the right time, in the right way, to make something happen.

If we want to truly engage our customers, we have to look beyond the buying process in which we are involved.  We have to look at what the customer is trying to achieve, and how this purchase decision fits within the context of their overall goal.  We have to help the customer understand how our solution contributes to their overall goal, we have to help facilitate and simplify their buying process, so they can invest time in the others things critical to the success of their project.

Let’s look at it from a different point of view.  Unless we have an exclusive, monopoly position with a product of service, even though we don’t want to admit it, the customer can seldom make a “wrong” product selection.  If they’ve done their homework, done their research, they have narrowed their solutions under consideration to a short list.  In reality, each of those alternatives is viable.

If we focus on helping the customer to make the “right product/service” decision, undoubtedly we are dealing in small nuances (my product comes in whatever colors you want) or pricing action.  The real differentiator in their decision-making process is how we help them in their buying process.  Ultimately, it’s how we look at the extended project making sure the part we are engage with fits with everything else they are doing–and making sure the customer sees how it does.

The more we can help the customer with the broader issues they face in being successful, the greater the value we create, and the more likely the customer will select our offerings–not because of the product or service, but because of how we contribute to their overall project success.

Buying is just one element of what our customers must achieve to achieve the goals and results they want.  Making the right product/service decision is often the least of their problems.  We serve our customers better when we demonstrate our understanding of this, and contribute where we can to their success.

Postscript:  In fairness to Andy, I was probably opportunistic and may have taken his tweet out of context.  After all, it’s very difficult to reduce complex issues to 140 characters.  My apologies, Andy, if I did.

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