A sales rep had a long-term relationship with the head of an in-house printing group, and he expected to get the business when the company decided to outsource its printing services. The rep was shocked to find out the deal went to a competitor. His contact told him the other company offered a “better value.” The sales rep thought he knew the customer, but now he wondered, “What did the other guy know that I didn’t?”
The sales rep in this example was sure he knew what the printing manager was looking for—she frequently told him how much she prized his company’s quality, reliability, and service. What he didn’t know, but a competitor did, was that the buying committee included several finance people and a key stakeholder who were very concerned about capital expenditures, rather than all the extra service the rep emphasized in his proposal. In short, he was outmaneuvered because he didn’t understand what the customer truly valued.
Salespeople often believe they know what the customer wants and needs, based on their own company’s value proposition and one or two discovery conversations with trusted contacts. Salespeople may be responding to an RFP that spells out the official requirements—information that is shared with all bidders. In fact, this information only tells part of the story and will not really help the salesperson clearly understand how the customer sees value. In the case above, the competitor learned about the capital expenditure issue either from a broader mix of stakeholders or from one contact who was well-informed about the decision makers’ real view of value. As a result, the competitor was able to create a solution that responded to the customer’s priorities better than the salesperson’s solution did. The salesperson was not only outmaneuvered, he was blindsided by having gathered too little or even misleading information.