How often has a sale been lost after we believed that the customer clearly understood his or her problem and would make a logical, quality decision?
As sales professionals, we have been taught that we must seek out and uncover our customer's decision process. We are to clearly determine who will be involved, what they are looking for, what criteria they will be using to evaluate the situation, how much money they will be willing to spend, etc. Once we have uncovered the customer's decision criteria, we are then advised to present our solution strengths, our added value, to match that decision process.
But what happens when your customer does not have a thorough decision process—or seldom, if ever, buys your type of solution? You may find yourself presenting good information into a sub-optimal process. All too often, after the presentation, we find ourselves shaking our heads in disbelief and saying to ourselves or our team, "I just don't understand! We clearly had the best value," or... "They just ignored the superiority of our service," or... "We thought they understood the flexibility of our software," or... "The (insert your best feature here) - they just didn't get it."
Research tells us why they didn't understand. In the absence of a high-quality decision process, customers are unable to sort through their complex problems and the competitive clutter surrounding them. Consider this question: "What percentage of your customers have a high-quality process to make a decision regarding your unique technology or services?" As we survey customers, the overwhelming answer is, "Not very many." The lack of a good decision process appears to be the norm, not the exception.
There are three primary reasons your customers may not have a thorough decision process and may not be able to comprehend the true value of your solution:
- The ever-increasing level of complex products and the similarities of the top, highly competitive solutions. In a complex business arena, the customer may lack the technical sophistication to differentiate between options that look similar on the surface. Additionally, the problems to be solved and the complexity of the solutions being offered today are constantly evolving. It's difficult or simply impossible to keep up.
- Customers' limited experience in making major decisions regarding this type of product or service. The more critical or significant the purchase, the less frequently the customer is going through the process. Downsizing and re-engineering of organizations has left many junior managers having to cope with decision responsibilities once held by seasoned and experienced managers.
- A shift in the decision-making hierarchy. Simultaneously, in other organizations, decisions are moving higher (rather than falling to more junior execs), and more people are becoming involved who now influence areas of their business that previously were not their major concern.
The net result of these factors is that your high-value solutions are presented into a less-than-optimal decision process, resulting in the customer's being unable to discern the respective values of various alternatives.
In this environment, the decision outcome is, at best, random and unpredictable. At worst, decisions will degenerate to the lowest common denominator, which typically is a combination of price and specifications.
A solution provider can solve this predicament by guiding customers through a process that will help them make a high-quality decision. This process will bring together both the customer and the seller to make a sound business agreement. Note the emphasis is on a decision process, not the selling process itself.
Jeff Thull is president and CEO of Prime Resource Group (www.primeresource.com) and the author of Exceptional Selling: How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sales (September 2006), The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale (Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2005) and Mastering the Complex Sale (2003).