Many lifetimes ago, I was the Executive Assistant (today we call it Chief of Staff) for one of the top executives at IBM. One morning I was meeting with him, he had just returned from a trip, calling on customers and meeting with people in the branch offices in Boston. George was a little frustrated about his visit, particularly with a meeting with a sales team.
They had just won a very large order. It was from a very important customer and was toughly competed. He met with the team to congratulate them on their success and to learn more about their strategies and how they had won.
In the conversation, he had asked them, “What did they buy the system for?” The response came quickly, “$45M!”
But the question George was asking was about what the customer was trying to do. It was a large manufacturing company, he wanted to understand it the systems were to help manage their manufacturing plants, or for their engineering teams, or finance, or some other area.
The perspective we had was that we sold solutions to business problems, we shipped computer systems tools.
I often pose a similar question when I meet with sales teams, “What are you selling?” Inevitably the response is the products the team is proposing. But that’s not what customers are buying. Customers are trying to address a business opportunity, to solve a problem, to drive a change.
Our disconnect with customers is we focus on what we are selling–a collection of products and services. As we work with customers telling them about all the capabilities of our solutions, how great our companies are, our impressive customer logos–we aren’t talking to them about what they are buying.
Our customers are not buying our products and solutions. Though these may be part of what they need, they are focused on their objectives and goals. They express these as problems they may be trying to solve, opportunities or changes critical to their ability to grow.
If we are to succeed in engaging them, we have to focus on what they are trying to do, how they achieve it, how they become confident in the decision they will make. What we sell is a vehicle to helping them achieve their goals–but it’s not what they are buying.
Do you know what your customers are buying? Are you helping them buy, or are you focused on what you sell?