Surprisingly, I’ve received more comments, questions, and pushback on my Solving The Customer’s Problem post than I expected. In hopes of providing clarity or adding fuel to the fire, I thought I’d continue.
Let me be clear, helping our customers buy is critical. It’s a giant step forward from what most sales people do.
Typically, we show up and throw up—pitching our products, even our solutions. This leaves the customer having to figure out, “how do I apply this to my business, what does it do for me.” The reality is customers don’t have time and won’t make the time for this. It’s not their job to figure out how our products and solutions can help them. They’re too busy doing their jobs, they don’t have time to do ours.
Today’s scenario, if we are lucky, the customer gets into an opportunity solving or problem solving mode. There’s something they want to change about what they are doing. There is a goal they need to achieve. As part of it, there may be some products and services they need to buy, along with all the other stuff that has to happen to change their business.
We already know they let their fingers do the walking through the web. We know famous figure (depending on which survey you tend to believe), they are 57-70% of their buying journey is complete before contacting sales.
By the way, you can tell sales focused guys did this research–again they focus on the buying journey, leaving the customer alone to figure out the rest of the journey themselves.
We know customers struggle in figuring out how to solve their problems–as part of that they struggle in figuring out how to buy. Helping our customers buy is much better than what most sales people do right now. If you haven’t made the step from “showing up and throwing up,” helping your customer buy is the next logical step.
But buying is just one element of what they are trying to do. Customers don’t buy to proudly display their purchases on the shelves of their corporate HQ’s. I’ve not met a single CEO who has walked me into a “Buying Trophy Room,” saying “Look over here Dave, we bought this ERP software in 1999. We haven’t opened the package yet, we just wanted to display it on the shelf. We’re thinking of putting it on EBAY to see what we get. There are more cool things we want to buy.” Or, “Dave, we’ve constructed a new display, we bought a million each of all the parts needed to go into a smartphone. But it takes more space than we expected- so we bought a building to house this display.”
In fact, buying doesn’t happen until they are a long way into their Opportunity Or Problem Solving Process. CEB reports that the “failure point” for many buying processes is 37% into their buying process (They never even get to the 57%). But we are only measuring people/organizations that have gotten that far! Think of all those who don’t make it to that point. Think of the opportunity costs to the customer for their inability to solve the problem. Think of the opportunity cost to your own company because they never got to the point of buying.
For a moment, think of your own experience. Think of that task force chartered to develop a new go to customer strategy, or the one looking at maximizing the time sales spends on selling activities, or the one looking at changing the customer experience. How many initiatives lost steam or failed because you struggled with understanding or solving the problem. Yes, you may have looked at solutions, but you couldn’t solve the problem.
Or look at it another way. There is seldom just one buying process the customer has to navigate to solve their problem. Look at a major enterprise sale. Let’s imagine a CRM, Marketing Automation, Financial Systems, Floor Control, HR or any other “system.” We’re interested in selling the software or cloud based solutions to address one of those issues. And we help the customer with their buying process for selecting the right cloud solution.
We diligently guide them through the buying process, ultimately, they say, “You’re the one!” High fives all around!
But then there’s the other buying processes. They have to figure out the business process redesign, they have to figure the implementation/customization, they have to think about data integration/migration, then there’s training services, maintenance/support (not of the cloud part but the peripheral parts, or what about the add-on apps that make add the other capabilities they want? Do they do it themselves, do they consider other suppliers?
What we miss buy helping the customer to buy, is all the other things that can derail that buying decision. And if it is so difficult for them to make that buying decision, then it is reasonable to assume, they encounter similar difficulties in all the other aspects of what they are doing.
By now, you are probably thinking this is so complex, you’re ready to throw your hands up in frustration.
To some degree, I’m dramatizing the challenge to catch your attention and to help you shift your perspective. After all, customers buy $ Trillions worldwide every year, some with difficulty, some without. We work for companies and have had success in selling millions/billions every year.
What I’m really talking about is context and focus.
We can never lose sight that the customer is not buying just for buying sake. They buy as part of something bigger they are trying to achieve. We always have to position what we sell, how we help them buy, how we help them solve their problems in the context of what they are trying to achieve.
We help them solve their problems buy positioning what they are buying/what we are selling in the context of how it helps solve their problems. It may be a big component–we certainly capture a lot of mindshare. It may be a small component–but they don’t solve their problem without it (remember for the loss of a horseshoe, a kingdom was lost).
We help make them aware of all the pieces parts/components involved in what they are trying to achieve. We make sure they consider how they fit together, the consequences of missing an important part. We must show how our part of their overall solution fits and how we can maximize their ability to be successful.
The customer’s view is Opportunity/Problem Solving. Everything we do has to complement and support the customer in what they are trying to achieve.