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“What Did They Buy It For?”

by David Brock on May 25th, 2021

Some years ago, I was doing a review with a sales team. They closed a huge deal, one of the biggest in their region for that quarter. I called them to congratulate them on their success, asking, “What did they buy it for?”

The answer stunned me, the lead sales person proudly responded, “They bought it for about $20M!” But they didn’t answer the question I was asking, so I asked again,”That’s great, I’m really delighted we closed that deal, but what did they buy it for?” Confused, the sales person described what they had sold–it was a mix of hardware, software and services to be implemented over the next 3 years.

That’s not what I was asking, I could see that in the agreement and in the CRM system. I asked one more time, “What did they buy it for, what are they trying to achieve, why is it important, how will it impact their ability to achieve their goals?”

Sadly, the sales team couldn’t really answer that. They danced around the issues a little, gave some clues, based on what we knew about the solution, but they couldn’t answer the simple question of “What did they buy it for?”

I ended up calling the customer to thank them for their business. As we spoke, I found a way to obliquely ask the question, “What did you buy it for?” I was embarrassed that we couldn’t answer that question. It turned out, that was all the customer wanted to talk about. We didn’t spend much time on what we had sold them. We focused on what they were doing, why it was important for them, what improvements they expected in the business. Not surprisingly, they where more concerned about what they were buying our solution for, than the hardware, software and services they had purchased. It was a great conversation, I shared my excitement to be supporting them in achieving the goals and, again, thanked them for the business.

Sadly, I think too many sales people can’t answer the basic question, “What are they buying it for?” We focus on what we are selling, perhaps why they should buy from us and not a competitor. We talk about the superiority of our solution and regale them with endless lists of features and functions that are supposed to differentiate our offerings.

But we don’t know what they are buying it for, and, consequently, the consequences of doing nothing, or the risks, challenges, change management issues. Or, what it means to them and how we make them successful–personally and organizationally. And that’s what the customer cares about and what drives them to buy.

Can you answer the question for each of your opportunities? Can you answer it in terms that are meaningful to the customer?

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