I was having a conversation with a very good sales person. We were speaking about a very competitive, difficult deal.

The conversation started with “value.” I asked questions about what the customer was trying to do, the results they expected, and the business impact. The sales person answered some of my questions about what the customer was trying to do—-but the conversation started getting diverted.

He started talking about what he was selling–and what he thought the customer was buying. Then he started talking about pricing strategy–both in terms of what they would be proposing to the customer, their reaction to the “premium pricing,” and the competitive response.

“We’re going to be $X more than the competition!”

As we dove into the situation, he was less worried about the competition, their solution wasn’t as strong and the customer had a preference for my client’s solution. He said, “They just don’t think they should be paying this much for our product. I think they are using the competition as leverage to get us to reduce the price.”

In my inimitable way, I asked the confusing question, “What are they buying?” Fortunately, the sales person was patient, recognizing I’m slow. He replied, “They are buying [he named his product].”

In that statement, we reached the core issue–both with buyers and sellers.

We get so caught up in the activities around buying and selling, we forget what the customer is trying to do, why it’s important, and the consequences of not buying.

It’s this serendipitous loop, we focus on selling our products and the customer adjusts their behavior to buying our product. The process becomes what they are buying, not what they are trying to achieve.

(Yeah, I know I’m talking about buyers not buying a drill but needing to have a hole in the wall….)

We started talking about what they were trying to do, we talked about why it was important, the expected results, the consequences of doing nothing. It turned out the results the customer would achieve with the solution my customer was selling was over 100 times the costs of the solution (the price, plus implementation).

“Can the customer achieve the same results without doing anything? Can the customer achieve the same results with another solution?”

As we discussed this, the sales person realized those results were important to the customer–they couldn’t/shouldn’t settle for less. He also recognized they couldn’t not take action.

He went to the customer refocusing the discussion on what they were trying to do. He revalidated the importance of this to them. They discussed the fact that doing nothing was not an option.

They discussed alternatives and the results each would produce. The customer confirmed that my client’s solution was the one they really needed.

Price never came up again. The focus of the conversation shifted from the product to what the customer wanted to achieve, and how my client would ensure they could achieve it.

As sales people, we lose sight of what our customers are trying to do, and why they are trying to do it. Too often, we don’t take the time to learn that, instead we focus on what we are selling and how much it costs.

Our customers get sucked into the same trap. At some point in their buying process, they focus on what we and our competitors are selling and how much it costs. And we reinforce that behavior because that’s what we want to talk about.

Selling–and buying is much easier when we focus on what the customer is trying to achieve, why, and it’s impact. The value the customer is looking for is not the product we sell and they buy, or it’s cost. It’s what it enables them to do.