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Chris was working on a new piece of business for her company. After months of pursuing the opportunity with her potential client, Chris had nailed down all of the most important elements:  She had been in regular contact with the decision maker, had a good sense of the underlying challenge the client was looking to solve, and even had confirmed their budget. After months of phone calls, emails, and meetings, Chris knew it was her deal to win. Chris also recognized that this deal would take her company to the next level. The client called that afternoon and said “Chris, your presentation was fantastic. Your pricing was also very attractive. At this point… we’ve decided to table this decision. We’re not telling you ‘No,’ just not ready to say ‘Yes.’”  They had decided to just stay with the status quo.

What Just Happened?

This scenario plays itself out hundreds of times per day in your city and every other city. In order to understand what happened, consider how executives make decisions. In research I have conducted with thousands of executives, I paint a scenario where one of their employees comes to them to spend money on a product or service. What questions would they need to have answered to make an informed decision to approve/reject the purchase?  These are the 2 main questions executives ask when approving a purchase :

  1. What problem does it solve? / Why do we need it?
  2. What is my LIKELY outcome or result with this solution?

In the example above, Chris had a good handle on the challenge the client was facing (thereby helping to address question 1), but, like most people selling things today, was not in touch with the outcome or results the client was seeking.

Why Does That Matter?

In interactions between buyers and sellers, the initial contact is the starting line.  As the person selling a product or service, what would you call the “finish line?” When I ask this questions to audiences, the most common response is some variation of “Getting the order / Making the Sale / Signing the Agreement / Getting paid on the invoice.” But, herein lies the problem:  What would the client say is their finish line? In most every case, their finish line is “Getting the outcome or result we were expecting.” This creates an inherent disconnect between the seller and the client.

If you are focused on getting the order, then all of your questions might be centered on getting a signed agreement. On the other hand, the client wants to know what you are going to do to ensure they get the results they need.

How Do You Fix This Problem?

Sellers stereotypically focus on the sale. You’ve probably heard someone say “What do I need to do to get you to sign this contract today?” That’s old school, and nobody wants to hear that garbage. Your client might be pressing you for prices. Instead of taking the bait and squabbling over price, try the following approach:

“I’m not yet sure how we are going to measure the success of the project. I think we’d both agree that if we don’t achieve the goal, then even if our solution was almost free, it wouldn’t be worth it. Once we both know what we are trying to accomplish, then, if I’ll be able to determine if we can deliver those results. If so, then I would be able to confidently give you a sense of what investment you’d need to make.”

This instantly puts you and the customer on the same side of the table, and your goals are now mutually aligned. Be careful, though.  If you can’t deliver the results they need, then don’t take the project. Or, at a minimum, explain what you confidently can deliver. By being candid, they’ll have more trust in working with you. If they set unrealistic goals, then you need to address that head-on in a discussion. In most cases, they’d rather work with someone who can confidently deliver a modest outcome, than to work with someone who will just say ‘Yes’ to unrealistic targets.

A Coincidental Benefit

By acknowledging that a cheap or free solution is not a good value if it doesn’t deliver results, you also allow your client to consider that if another vendor is less expensive but not focused on results, that your solution might, in fact, be a better value.

By focusing on the results as the finish line, your client can see you as a trusted advisor  with a shared vision of success, not just a weasel trying to sell stuff.

It’s Your Turn

Do you have examples of where a focus on making the sale or delivering results has impacted a decision? Share your experience.