Don Mulhern published a brilliant post in LinkedIn the other day. I thought I’d expand on his ideas.

I spend innumerable hours doing deal reviews. 95% go the same way, they focus on the product the sales person is selling, not what the customer is trying to achieve and how we can help the customer do that.

Sales people spend endless hours talking about:

  • This is what they like in our product, this is what they like in the competition.
  • We showed them these things in the demo, they really liked it!
  • We just need to overcome these perceptions of the product, then we can win.
  • If we could do these things with our product, it’s a slam dunk.
  • The customer wants it in “torchlight red,” can we paint it? (OK, I made this one up, but you’d be amazed at some of the things I hear.)

Inevitably, I get impatient, I may ask something, like, “What are they buying this for?” The sales people look at me, inevitably thinking, “Haven’t you been paying attention, they want to buy my product and I have to tell them how great our product is!!!”

The fixation sales people have on selling their products blinds them to what the customer is trying to achieve. Customers aren’t buying our products just to be buying, they are buying our products to solve a problem, to address and opportunity, to achieve something they can’t otherwise do.

Inevitably, the product is just a component of what they are trying to do, but there are many other challenges they struggle with. This is where they need help and this is where sales people create the greatest value.

Customers are concerned with implementation, they are concerned with risk, they are concerned with their ability to be successful with their customers or beating their competition. They are concerned with improving quality, reducing cost, reducing cycle time. They want to drive growth and revenues, they want to drive profitability.

They want to be successful, they want some level of sanity in their otherwise insane lives, they want their bosses off their backs, they want to get a promotion or a bonus or keep their jobs. They want to get home at a reasonable hour to spend time with their families and friends. They want to free up time to do other things, some that may be more important than this specific issue.

These are the things our customers are interested in. These are the reasons our customers are buying, but buying is just a small part of what they are trying to achieve.

When salespeople lose sight of this, focusing instead on their products, they are no longer being helpful to the customer. They are no longer focusing on the issues that are most important to the customer, and which create the greatest differentiated value.

Our products are just a small part of what our customers care about. In the end, they will have several alternatives that meet their “product needs.” But what our customers really want is a supplier that understands what the customer is trying to do and is helping them achieve that. It goes far beyond the product.