How many times in the last 18 to 24 months have you been involved in an opportunity (a pretty good one), just like the last few with that customer. You got the call or the email from the customer about the project (the Binford 5,000 Project). You met with your contact(s), qualified the opportunity as much as possible, met with your internal people, developed a great solution, submitted your quote, re-submitted, followed up, followed up again, one more try. Uh oh, now you’re starting to get nervous. Barb always gets back to me…
After a few more tries you finally get in touch with Barb. But things aren’t the same. She’s normally pretty friendly, engages in small talk, even asks about you & your family. This time we won’t say Barb’s frigid, but she sure isn’t warm & fuzzy. The small talk has hit a wall & it seems as though she wants to get off the phone a lot quicker than normal.
It takes a few minutes, but Barb finally fesses up to you; the Binford 5,000 Project went to your competitor.
You think to yourself, WTF?
Time for a quick post-mortem in your head. You can’t think of one thing you did wrong.
- You had good meetings with Barb & others.
- You know the project
- They know you & your company
- You certainly have the technology they are looking for & a beautiful solution
- Your pricing is right
One question you should be asking yourself & one thing you would know if you spent more time at your customer(s) is: What has changed? On their end. It’s hard to know what has changed at the customer when you’re not there & if you don’t ask.
Don’t take this as a slam to your work ethic. It’s not. Salespeople have a lot to do. We get it. You have to work in your customer visits. You have to work around their schedules. The customer may be out of town. A lot goes into it. Let’s all agree that we should never miss out on an opportunity to be face-to-face with our customers (or as a client of mine likes to say,We need to get belly to belly with them!)
If you are not in front of your clients & customers on a daily, weekly or monthly basis (depending on geography) you are falling way behind. You are exposing yourself. You are missing out on ways to learn about your customer.
But, that’s only part of it. Being there is one thing. You have to be with them, engage them, understand them, ask them questions. It’s not enough to just show your face. You need to show your value. We say this often: You will gain credibility with your prospects & customers through the questions you ask – not by the information you Dump on them.
Let’s look at a list of items that can easily be obtained at the customer (but not so much in your office over email), especially the last bullet-point… that talks about their process:
- The next project
- Feedback on the current project
- New players involved in the project (engineering, quality, facilities, purchasing, etc.)
- Competitive information
- Developing relationships
- Understanding the customer’s process (decision making process, work-flow, tendencies, motivations, etc.)
- Who is involved in the decision?
- Who else is involved in the decision?
- What is each person’s role in the decision?
- How do they make the decision (the steps involved)?
- What factors are considered in the decision (tooling, transportation, duty, logistics, acceptable cost models etc.)
- How often do they meet & discuss?
- Who else are they considering? What are theirvalue propositions?
- What personal PAIN are you helping them with?
- How is their relationship with their supervisor (office politics)?
- Are we just a data point for them? (keeping the incumbent honest?)
Step one is being there. Step two is engaging, asking & understanding their process. Do ‘em both.