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Why you shouldn’t always do what your customer wants

Posted by Philip Kreindler on 17-Jul-2014 11:29:00

why_you_shouldnt_always_do_what_the_customer_wantsAnother blog title that seems to fly in the face of common sense – why wouldn’t you do exactly what customers want? Surely that’s how you will get their business? Well yes and no. Yes if what your prospect wants fits into your Sales Process. But if it doesn’t then you run the risk of losing control and losing the business. 

The truth of this was brought home to me recently in a series of pitches. The first we lost by doing exactly what the customer wanted, the other two were won by bringing the customer into line with the Process.

Doing as we were asked

In August this year we were asked by the Sales University of a US based global chemical company with a 4.5K strong sales force to make a presentation for a large piece of business. The contact was very keen; he had procurement on board so he clearly meant business. All I had to do was make a WebEx presentation to a group of people from across the business. Straight after the presentation our contact called to say it had gone really well.

We didn’t get the business.

Why? Because I didn’t know the people from the other Business Units who were in the meeting so I had no idea what their requirements were – I was “shooting in the dark” and of course I missed the target. I was not at all surprised when we didn’t get the business. We had lost control by doing what the customer asked us to do.


Not doing as we were asked

Soon after, a large Food Additivecompany with a 2.5k strong sales force asked us to pitch for their business. After an initial conversationwe sent back a synopsis of our understanding of their needs, which helped to build trust with them. Then we were asked by our initial contact to make a presentation to 9 decision makers from across the world, representing various aspect of the organisation.

With our recent failure fresh in mind we stuck to our Sales Process and said we needed to know more about the goals of these people before we could make a professional presentation. After our contact had paved the way we contacted all the decision makers and conducted a 20 minute interview (though some of the interviews were considerably longer because they wanted to discuss their requirements in depth). We summarised the interviews and sent them back to the decision makers for approval and then sent the summaries on to our contact – making sure he was at the centre of the process.

We made our presentation. We won the business.


Getting the customer to change their buying process significantly

We’ve been even more radical in the past, helping one of our clients win business by sticking to their Sales Process. This was an IT company pitching against a much larger competitor to implementa CRM system in a large German automotive company. Previously the automotive company had appointed a supplier to help them with the implementation who failed to live up to expectations.

The process was narrowed down to 3 companies, including our client, who were asked to present. We knew our client had a better team so we suggested askingthe manufacturer if they were using the same process that had failed before. They agreed they were. So we suggested that the suppliers be allowed more time to fully understand all the stakeholder requirements so theycould make better presentations and the manufacturer agreed.

The other companies carried out more telephone interviews. Our client sent teams in to the customer’s offices, worked on a couple of small projects related to the CRM and used the results as part of the presentation. The customer met the team, got to know them and saw the work as a test drive. Our clientwon the business.


And if they won’t change?

Sometimes a procurement process is just too rigid and the customer won’t budge however strong a case you make. Think hard about carrying on with the pitch in these circumstances, especially if you are a challenger up against an incumbent who knows exactly what every stakeholder’s requirement are. It might be better to withdraw gracefully and use your time on a winnable pitch.


How not to do what customers want and still win the business

  1. Win their trust at an early stage – this gives you the credibility to suggest changes and stay in charge of the process.

  2. Quickly identify where what the customer wants will take you away from yourSales Process.

  3. When you suggest changes, make sure you demonstrate how they will add value to the customer.

  4. Even when you talk to other stakeholders, keep your main contact closely involved and make them feel they are at the centre of the process.



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