Sales people are an interesting lot. So are customers for that matter. When you put the two of them together there is no telling what will happen. Many times sales people have been conditioned to try and sell the next new shiny widget as the solution to all customers’ problems. Customers usually have a whole raft of out dated, earlier release, vintage, dull clunky widgets that could be the source of their current issues and unhappiness, which they had previously bought from the same, or other sales people. They might even have some earlier generation doo-hickies and possibly a thing-a-ma-bob or two. It will be the wise sales person that recognizes when yet another product purchase may not be what the customer wants or needs.
Widgets, doo-hickies, thingamabobs and even whatchyamacallits are all recognized product terms in the high tech business sector. It took me quite a while to master this vernacular. Pay close attention and you too could end up being technology prosaic master.
We all seem to have been conditioned to the idea that new products, new equipment or new technology are the answer to all customer issues that are usually the result of the old products that they previously bought. It is conveniently forgotten that the old products were the answer to the then previous issues. And so on and so on back in time.
Now I can see where a new product might be an answer to a customer request. I want a new car, or I want a new house might be one of those customer requests that fit this description. I don’t think I have ever heard a consumer say that they want a new electrical generating plant. They may not even want more electricity. They want to run their refrigerator or possibly their air conditioner (a particularly high level requirement for hot summers here in Texas). They don’t usually ask for a new phone system. They want to play “Words with Friends” (or some such other application) on their smart phone.
The point is that customers rarely request for a specific product or a new technology. They ask for a solution. These requests are normally phrased in the form of: “I need to do more…” or “I need to spend less …” In many instances it may in fact be a new product that is the answer to their needs. Something that runs faster, or reduces operational expenses is almost always available in the market.
But what happens when the customer already has plenty of capacity? They don’t need to go any faster. They may not want to buy another product because the products that they currently have work just fine. Still, they feel they have a need. If they feel they have a need then they do have a need.
When it comes to customers, perception is reality. Even if their perception does not match anyone else’s.
Sometimes sales people need to take a step back from trying to sell the next shiny widget, and get back to solving the customer’s problem.
I have talked about value many times in the past. Customers will exchange their money for something that they perceive to have value for them. All too many times sales people associate that “value” with some sort of physical product. However customers will only associate value with a product if it solves their problem. And sometimes it is not a new product that solves their problem. Customer value lies in the solution that is provided to them, whether it has a product or some sort of associated equipment or not.
Successful sales is based on the precepts of trust in the relationship between the buyer and seller, as well as the belief in the expertise of the selling entity in the solving the buyer’s issues. Vendors who focus solely on the sale of the next shiny widget eventually find themselves supplanted by someone else whose focus in on solving the customer’s problem or need. This inevitably comes about when the customer no longer trusts the vendor to be looking out for the customer’s best interest, but rather is focused on closing the next sale.
It is too easy to say the next release, next generation or next product is the solution that the customer needs. After all, it is most likely what the competitors (both incumbent and non-incumbent) will be saying. It is more difficult to look beyond the equipment sale and look at customer need and solution, but that is where both the customer trust and customer value are built.
Sometimes a customer may just need to be shown how they can better or more efficiently use the widgets that they have already purchased. At other times it may be issues associated with how the previously purchased widgets have been applied. Sometimes the current widget just needs to be fixed instead of replaced.
The approach here is for the sales person to make their customer’s problem their own problem. This can be done figuratively where they put themselves in the customer’s shoes and do the right thing for them, or it can be literally where they take ownership of the customers issue outright in a legal transference of responsibility for the source of the customer’s issue and thereby solve the customers issue by taking it away from them. In the figurative solution the sales person solves the problem as if it were their own problem. In the transference solution the sales person makes the customer’s problem their own problem and then solves it.
Sometimes when you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, either literally or figuratively you find that selling them something may not be the preferred or even desired solution. In this case the value that the sales person brings to the customers lies in the expertise that they bring to bear on the customer issue. Sometimes the solution is to externalize the issue (from the customer’s point of view) so that they don’t have to solve the problem. From a customer’s point of view having a problem taken away from them, either figuratively or literally means that they don’t need to worry about it anymore.
I have found that in the longer run customers will pay much more for the value that this peace of mind brings them, than they would for any specific product that may be the next shiny thing in some sales person’s kit bag. If a sales person can figure out how to actually remove an issue from their customer’s business, they will find that they don’t really have to sell any specific products, as the solution will be all that matters to the customer.