A sure bet:
One of the first topics commonly included in sales training programs and books is a discussion of ??????Sales Myths??????. Over the years I have heard a number of these myths and have my own favorite set of a half-dozen or so that we use in our sales training program.
The myth that is particularly revealing is implied in this question we ask to sales people:
“How many of you have ever lost to an inferior offering?”
When I ask this, I always accompany it with a warning that it????????s a trick question. In spite of the warning, a nearly unanimous show of hands is the response.
That????????s when the trap closes.
It????????s all about perspective
The truth is that you never lose to an inferior offering. It may appear inferior in your eyes, and from your perspective. You may even be able to show the specification inferiority in absolute provable, numerical or physical terms. But, it????????s not your eyes and perspectives that matter. The only eyes and perspectives that matter are those of the customer.
So, what is the real story?
Losing to an offering that is inferior in your eyes really means some, or all, of the following:
1.You didn????????t truly understand the criteria the customer used to make the decision until it was too late.
2.You didn????????t ask what the criteria were.
3.You didn????????t develop enough trust with the customer for them to share the criteria with you.
4.You didn????????t understand the circumstances that influenced the customer.
5.You didn????????t understand, or were unable to advise the customer to re-consider the decision criteria.
6.You were selling into a poorly qualified opportunity, one that didn????????t match the strength of your offering.
If you are a sales person, or someone who has access to the sales pipeline of your firm, select the top six opportunities in the pipeline. For each of these opportunities list the top four to six criteria, in decreasing order of importance, that the customer will use to decide what to buy ???????? or even if to buy at all.
When we use this exercise in our training programs, the stunned and embarrassed faces in the crowd are something to see.
Not too long ago, we were working with a client sales person on his pipeline. He was proudly sharing page after page of opportunity strategy worksheets. On every sheet the decision criteria, a section we strongly encourage sales people to document and use in formulating strategies and action plans, were exactly the same.
I had to ask how that could be ???????? and if that was truly what the customers were telling him. If it were so, it would have been the most incredibly homogeneous market I had ever seen.
He replied, ??????No, the customers didn????????t tell me those criteria. I know how my customers make their decisions. I don????????t have to ask.??????
Was this response arrogance? Laziness? Fear of asking? Lack of belief that decision criteria expressed by the customer is relevant? Whatever the reason, this poor sales person embarrassed himself in front of his peers and management?
Phrasing the question effectively
Much of the value that sales people receive from sales training is in learning key phrases and techniques for asking tough questions. These questions might be about funding availability, decision-making power, the competitive situation, gaining access to other folks involved in the decision, or, in this case the decision criteria.
One of the common traps sales people fall into with respect to understanding decision criteria is assuming that while they are talking with the customer, decision criteria are naturally being revealed in the normal course of conversation. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they aren????????t.
The safe stance is to assume that they aren????????t revealed. So, here are some questions to assist in revealing the real decision criteria:
Assuming you are not the exclusive decision maker, would you feel comfortable sharing what you believe other members of the committee are concerned about and would use in selecting the final solution?
If you feel uncomfortable speaking for them, what benefit do you think there might be in gathering the decision makers and influencers to work through and collect all the decision criteria and perspectives?
Have they compiled their concerns, needs and preferences in any sort of document?
Is there a vendor????????s guide that would help assure that we will meet or exceed all your criteria?
Of course, there is always the option of asking directly, ??????What are the decision criteria???????
In reality, based on the responses of the hosts of sales people attending our training programs, that last question is rarely used. The more common scenario is that sales people believe that they know everything about the customer????????s decision process simply by having had a discussion.
A final check???????
Even if you haven????????t broached the subject of decision criteria directly, and believe you know enough from the conversation, it is helpful to run through the following routine to review what you understand the criteria to be.
??????Thanks for taking the time with me, Paul. Before we break up here, would you mind if I spent just a moment to confirm that I understand the criteria you will be using to make your decision. Here????????s what I inferred from the conversation. (Re-cap here).
When you finish, ask, ??????Is there anything I missed? Is there anyone else that we need to speak with who might have additional criteria???????.
Explicit, Implicit and Hidden Criteria
If you follow that dialogue you get only explicit criteria. It????????s certainly better than not knowing anything ???????? but it????????s incomplete.
Implicit and hidden criteria are best revealed through keen observation. While much is said in sales literature about listening skills, keen observation skills are equally, if not more important.
Observing and noting the physical surroundings, the personalities of the buyers, the organizational and political situation in the customer????????s firm, the personal ambitions of the buyers and body language can reveal approaches which meet implicit and hidden criteria. If the office is highly organized and neat, so should be your proposal, your meetings, your presentations and your communications. If the customer works in teams, package your offering as a team effort. Implicit and hidden criteria / requirements can be met at the sub-conscious, as well as the conscious behavioral level.
Keep in mind what Yogi Berra is purported to have said,
??????You can see an awful lot just by observing??????
A final point:
In the hands of the skilled sales person, dialogue and observation must work closely together to identify customer buying criteria. The more the criteria are understood the higher the probability of winning and the lower the risk of losing to an apparently inferior offering.
To learn more about the QMP process for understanding customer decision making and creating winning sales strategies visit our wesbite at www.TheQMPGroup.com.