With the majority of failed sales deals, the discussion came off the rails because of a simple disconnect: the sellers were not telling their customers what the customers wanted to hear.
By what they wanted to hear, I don’t mean exaggerated claims about the product’s effectiveness. They don’t want you to lie to them and tell them your solution will solve all their problems.
What executives want to know is straightforward, but so often missed: they want to know the value your solution will provide. They want to know the risks involved in its implementation. And they want to know the business outcomes they can expect to see.
Yet, instead of hearing about the tangible benefits of a product, they routinely hear a laundry list of product features viewed from the seller’s perspective. As Dean Z. Myers, a former VP of Global Supply Chain at The Coca-Cola Company, put it, “What’s sad is how many sellers don’t do it right. Even senior-level sellers have forgotten how to be ‘external’—customer focused. Most are just dumping data, and no one wants to be data dumped.”
If this sounds familiar, it’s time to change your perspective and tell buyers what they really want to hear.
Your Buyers’ Biggest Concerns
The most important thing to keep in mind as a seller is that the buyer’s priorities and interests do not necessarily align with your own. Sellers like to sell value, but they don’t always know whether that value is realized by the customer. Instead of going on about all the features you find compelling, you should be talking about what they will find relevant to their business.
For example, if you’re selling software, buyers don’t want to hear about every line of code in your software; they want to know how you’ll solve their problems and allow them to achieve their goals. You need to connect what you’re selling to what they need.
At many companies, the biggest concern will be revenue or profits. At others, it will be employee retention, customer satisfaction, or asset utilization. There are as many problems as there are companies, but if you research your customers’ industries, you will likely find patterns in their priorities.
In other words, get to know your customers’ industries and the unique financial situations at their companies, and you’ll have a much clearer picture of what they’re looking for in a solution.
Don’t Overshare in Your Business Case
Often, a seller’s tendency to overshare comes through in their business case. They include too much of the wrong information, and they end up losing their customer’s attention and interest.
A few years ago, we participated in a round table discussion on Value Selling, which was attended by many of the top technology companies. One of the topics was how much to include in a business case.
The consensus was, for 25 percent of their purchases, buyers wanted only a vision. At the time, there was a big push for digital transformation, so they just wanted some insight on digital transformation: how to do it, how much it cost, and the potential business outcomes.
The same is true for AI: It sounds great, but so what? What am I going to do with it and how does that align with my strategy and further my goals?
For the majority of purchases—the consensus was 50 percent—companies wanted to know, from a high-level standpoint, the business fit, cash flows, and return on investment. They wanted to know how a solution aligns with their goals and strategies, the range of benefits that other companies have experienced, and a “back of the envelope” calculation on what they can expect. Think “business case lite.”
For the remaining 25 percent of purchases, buyers wanted a full-blown business case. The lesson here is to consider the size and extent of the purchase when building your case.
Another lesson we learned, and this should go without saying, is to be 100 percent honest with your calculations. Buyers are naturally suspicious of financial benefits proposed by salespeople, and if you bring some outrageous claim to them, you lose all credibility. Be reasonable in your estimates and don’t overstate what your solution can do.
Share Enough of the Right Information
Your customer doesn’t want to hear about the obscure features of your product that they may never even use. Frankly, they don’t have the time.
In sales, if you overshare information that your customer finds useless, they will check out of the conversation—and you’ll probably never get them back. Sometimes, less is more. Most importantly, you want to share the right information. Think about what buyers really want to hear: the details about how your solution will improve their business outcomes.
The key is getting to know your customer better—their business, their industry, and the various stakeholders involved in the buying decision process. It’s making the effort to learn how they measure success.
If you’re going to ask them to spend money with you, you need to be able to show how your solution can help them achieve their goals, implement their strategies, and ultimately deliver their desired business outcomes. Do that, and they’ll be much more open to hearing what you have to say.
For more advice on succeeding in sales, you can find Insight-Led Selling on Amazon.
Dr. Stephen G. Timme is President and Founder of FinListics Solutions, a company that helps B2B professionals develop greater customer insights and better demonstrate the value of their solutions. Before founding FinListics, Stephen was a professor of finance at Emory University and Georgia State University, an adjunct professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a consultant for numerous Fortune 500 companies.
Melody Astley is FinListics’ Chief Revenue Officer. With a background that includes leadership and senior sales roles at Gartner and IBM, Melody is responsible for strategic business growth and FinListics’ sales and marketing engines. She leads workshops and presents at global conferences, such as Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA) and the RevGen Digital Summit.