Are you selling the way your customer buys?

This post originally appeared in 2007 — I hopped into the way-back machine to locate it for you because it’s still true today.

A persistent comment that I have for most brands is that their sales story is often about the way they like to sell, rather than how their customers like to buy.

Sometimes companies bundle products or services at a discount to individual prices. Unfortunately, when a customer just wants one item — there’s often no model for making the sale.

Here’s an example: I subscribed to an online media information database that was both expensive and bundled information that I didn’t need (and information I did need was only available through a separately priced package). So I decided to unsubscribe. I explained my reasons to the customer service rep and he focused on the price issue. “What if I reduce the cost?” I asked him about splitting his packages. He again asked, “What if we extended the length of your subscription?”

I explained that subscribing for a longer period of time, even for less money, did not solve the problem that the service he was providing did not meet my need. That need — the story of how I wanted to buy his service — is a la carte. His need — the story of how his company packages and sells information — is prix fixe.

What is your sales story?

About Arthur Germain

Arthur Germain, Principal & Chief Brandteller of Communication Strategy Group is the curator and main blogger for Brandtelling, a blog about Brand+Storytelling.

Comments

  1. Arthur, this is such a “duh!” and yet your customer service rep contact was clearly not empowered to act on your actual needs in order to save your business.

    Hopefully that company, at a minimum, had a process in place to cull de-activation responses and feed them “upstairs” for further consideration.

    Other than collecing this kind of anecdotal information and learning to respond to it, do you have any ideas (or better processes) in mind in particular to help us do a better job at *proactively* looking at sales from customer point of view?

    I love this idea – especially, as they say, “in times like these”. I’d like to say we’re doing it, but without a checklist, we could be kidding ourselves!

    Deborah Elms
    Imprinted Originals
    High Visibility Made Easy for Trade Shows and Events

  2. Deb,
    I have seen good information about customer service in a variety of places, but some type of checklist is a great idea. Obviously it would need to be tailored to each company for specifics, but “escalation items” should always be in place. And, no, the company in question has never contacted me again.
    ahg3

  3. More and more, sellers need to think like physicians. If you went to a doctor and said the medicine was not working, would he reduce the price? Of course not. He would start asking questions and running tests. Then he would give an informed recommendation.

    Think like a physician today for greater success.

    Jeff

  4. Excellent topic and one I’ve started preaching to people I work with. Prospects want to become customers but often it’s not on our timetable and not the way we want to sell them.

    You weren’t looking for a better price…you wanted what you needed. Smart sellers ask the right questions to uncover how they can help (if they can help) and listen carefully to the answers then use that information to assist the prospect in becoming a happy customer. Feels better to the customer AND the salesperson. Far less “pushy” and results in more, and longer-term, clients.

  5. Jeff,
    Great perspective from a sales professional! Got to teach salespeople — and marketers — to become more flexible in packaging.
    @ArthurGermain

  6. I think the observations are still very true – sales people who understand / react to their customers’ problems generally win, and sales people who try to impose their will generally lose.

    However, I think there are often business reasons why some companies can’t evolve to EVERY customer’s unique requirements, and the rigidity of “how they sell” is more of a reflection of the modus they are already committed to (for business reasons) than lack of recognition that this single customer wants things a different way.

    The customer is not always right. It’s the company’s biggest pool of customers – and the things that make the product most attractive / profitable to that collective group – that’s always right. A lot of times running a business you have to tell customers no, and that’s something I’ve found difficult. If you stop to change your pricing model, your features priorities or other core aspects of your business every time a single customer takes exception, you spiral out of control and have no core focus. I think businesses necessarily have to focus on the greatest common good scenarios, and have to live with certain customer prospects walking away.

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