We have all seen it, and probably even done it at one time or another. A customer wants something. It is a logical request. They are a good customer. We really want to make them happy. The problem is that we are just not able to provide them what they want. It is now somebody’s responsibility to tell them.
It may be too expensive to develop the capability or to do. You may not have the resources available. The product or service may just not be technically capable of delivering what has been requested. It may be so far outside the contractual arrangements that you just can’t do it.
It is bad news.
Our first response is to try and soften the news. We naturally look for some way to get around the issue. We want to leave some feeling that there may be some way around the problem or a potential solution in the future. Don’t defer it, avoid it, or assign it to someone else.
This is only digging the hole deeper.
Business is about setting expectations and then meeting them. If you can not meet a customer’s request, you need to deliver that position and set the expectation that the request will not be met. It is business. People understand that they will not always be able to get everything they want. If positioned properly and honestly, it will be known that it is your desire and position to provide the best service and capabilities available, but that sometimes you are not able to fulfill every customer request.
In the future, if a solution to the customer’s request is found or developed, they will be pleased as their expectations (of no solution) will be exceeded. Whereas if you have positioned for a potential review or solution at sometime in the future to avoid delivering bad news, you have delayed meeting their expectations and created frustration. Customers understand a “yes” or a “no” answer, but a “maybe” will almost always frustrate them.
Customers associate value with items that they pay for. If they don’t have to pay for it, then they assume it has no value. I think that this is another of the immutable laws of sales.
We have all heard of and potentially even tried to use the old “try and buy” closing technique. This is when you provide the customer the product for free, and at the end of some period of time they should be so enthusiastic about the product that they can’t help but pay you for it. While this may work for smaller ticket items, I have found that its success rapidly diminishes as the cost and sophistication of the product increases.
The view here is that if the customer believes that the product is free, for whatever period of time, then it has no value at least for that specific period. If the customer has no commitment to the trial process (in the form of committed money for the cost of the product) then there is no commitment from them to actually using the product to fairly ascertain its value. The key point here is that if the seller puts no value on their own product, why should the customer put any value on it.
The solution is to get the customer to put “some skin in the game”. They have to commit something of value – money – to the “trial”. Their time is nice but it is not good enough. The approach should be for them to buy the product for a period of time and if it does not perform to certain specifications, then it can be returned with a minimal restocking fee. Again a restocking fee, or a de-installation fee, etc, is important. As much as we would all like it (customers included) nothing is for free and the customer must understand that there is at least a small risk if the trial is a failure.
By implementing a “buy and try” sales process you can reduce the customers perceived risk and exposure associated with the product purchase while making sure they are committed to its use. It is in effect providing them with a fully paid grace period. If the product is sound, the service good and the relationship strong, it should also provide an effective way to close the deal.