Solving Our Problems

I’ve been having trouble with a sales person. He’s someone I’ve done business with a few times before. It started a few months ago.

He sold my wife her last car. He knows her lease is coming to an end in July. A few months ago, he politely called me (wonder why he didn’t call my wife) asking our intentions at the end of the lease. I told him, “She loves the car, she’ll probably buy the current model at the end of her current lease. Why don’t you ask her?” He politely asked, “Would you make sure to call me when you want to get the new car?” I responded we would and we concluded the conversation.

A couple days later, he calls me. I noticed it was the end of the month. “We have a great promotion on that model of car right now! You can get the new model with no penalty……..” I knew he wanted to make a deal now, I knew he had to make his numbers. I thanked him for the call, but said that we really didn’t want to replace her current car until July. I said, “Please, we’ll talk to you in July, don’t worry. Just don’t bother us until then.” I still wondered why he was talking to my wife–who is the decision maker for this purchase. But I figured I was saving her some aggravation.

Guess what, toward the end of the next month, there was a replay of the same conversation of the previous month. This time, I was a little less polite. “We will talk to you when we are going to buy a car. I just don’t want you bothering me until then. Please don’t call us until July!”

Guess what happened the end of last month? Yes, the phone rang, I picked it up, the moment I heard his voice I interrupted. “How many times do I have to tell you this. We are not interested in a car until July. I’ve told you this several times before, but you are ignoring what we want. So here’s the bottom line, I don’t want to hear from you again. We will not buy a car from you. We will find another dealership. If I ever hear from you again, I will call the owner of the dealership!”

While this is a bit dramatic, it’s not all that uncommon. The problem was, this sales person was more concerned about solving his problem–making his number, than he was about solving our problem. In the end, his focus on his issues caused him to lose the whole deal.

Too often, we find ourselves in similar positions. We’re behind on our numbers, our managers are pressuring us, our pipeline’s a light, we need to make something happen. We start focusing on our problem–we need to close deals.

It’s all about understanding what’s really important, focusing all our attention and energy on that–eliminating all other distractions.

Our job as sales professionals is to maximize our value creation and differentiation with current and prospective customers. The moment our focus shifts from this — we actually start reducing our ability to be successful in achieving our objectives.

It happens in many ways, often in just small things, sometimes unconsciously.

In the example above, the sale person had created, through past relationships and attentiveness, enough value that we intended to buy the car from him. Once he knew that, his goal shifted to buying the car on a schedule that served him rather than serving us. He has lost our business (and referral business forever).

The problem about pushing for the order prematurely, is obvious–we know how that works.

But there are other things that go wrong when we focus on solving our problems:

Our funnels are light, we need more in our funnel–we set out to solve our funnel/pipeline problem. We relax our qualification criteria, we fill our funnel, we’ve solved that problem—but the quality of the funnel has plummeted. Our win rates go down, our ability to connect in relevant ways with the customer goes down (because we’re chasing the wrong customer). Customers don’t want to see us. We try to fix this by casting an even wider net. We go into a death spiral.

We don’t have enough time to do everything that we need to. Rather than focusing and eliminating time drains, we solve our problem, we don’t prepare for calls and meetings with the customer. We waste the customer’s time, hurt our relationship. We fail to accomplish what we should, so we have to schedule another call to correct the situation—creating more pressure on our time. We may thrash about trying to do more stuff, but the quality of our activity is bad, it’s unfocused, we end up wasting the customer time and ours.

Pretty soon, all these things pile up on us—we’re too busy, we’re chasing deals—bad deals, we aren’t closing business, we aren’t creating differentiated value for the customer, we aren’t making our numbers–which was the problem we were trying to solve.

It seems counterintuitive, but we always solve our problems by focusing on the customer and solving the customer’s problems. But there are some caveats to this:

  • Are we working with the right customers and prospects?
  • Do they have a real problem to solve and a great sense of urgency in solving their problem?
  • Do we have a superior solution to their problems? Can we differentiate our offering in ways meaningful and valuable to them?
  • Does the customer consider us a serious alternative to solving their problem?

If we focus on these customers–or finding them, it’s amazing, it always enables us to solve our problems. We stop wasting time on chasing bad deals (and annoying those customers). We move the customer to buying, not because we need the order, but they need to achieve the outcomes.

Narrowing our focus, increasing our ability to spend time with a high quality set of opportunities, intensifying our conversations around what they want to achieve and assuring they “buy it,” always produce outcomes that solve our problems.

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