Great salespeople seek to elevate their relationships with customers beyond that of a hawker of goods or services to the level of a trusted advisor. Regardless of the products or services you sell, it’s likely you seek to sell consultatively, to uncover deeper buying motives, and to address customer problems rather than to just sell stuff. The days of just selling stuff are over, and everyone knows it.
It comes as a great surprise, therefore, to see how many salespeople masterfully and artfully sell in a consultative way throughout the buyer’s journey…right until the proposal and pricing stage. In this stage of proposing, pricing, and negotiating, salespeople often make one of a few critical errors that put them in a very weak position:
- Letting the customer define the path
- Offering too many options
- Giving in on price pressure
GIVE THE CUSTOMER WHAT THEY WANT, BUT NOT FREE REIGN TO DEFINE THE PATH.
How much the customer defines the solution you provide them vs. how much you lead the development of the solution depends on your industry quite a bit. But we routinely see that sellers give the customer too much room to define and design a solution of their choosing. Sometimes the customer belongs in the driver’s seat, but often it’s the seller that’s in the best position to define the right solution to solve the problem.
Be bold enough to lead with your expertise and thought leadership. Build trust by pushing back on the customer. Say no to requests that won’t work or that will negatively affect outcomes. Be willing to tell them which bells and whistles they don’t need. Have the courage to propose what the customer truly needs, not just what they asked for.
Besides leaving the customer with a sub-optimum solution, saying “we can do anything you want” can send a very desperate message and create suspicion. Are you just out to sell anything the customer will buy, or are you out to sell them what they truly need? It is wishy-washy and weak.
GIVE THE CUSTOMER WHAT THEY WANT, BUT NOT TOO MANY OPTIONS.
A close cousin to letting customers define the path is offering too many options. Even if the options aren’t confusing or overwhelming, too many options grind the sales process to a halt.
A paradox in selling is that customers love to choose, but too much choice is the death of a decision. Human beings love choice. It gives us a dopamine rush to experience it. However, given too many options, buyers become paralyzed by choice. This phenomenon, known in neuropsychology as choice overload, is the death of a sale.
Be bold enough to lead with your expertise and thought leadership.
You are the expert in what you sell and how to solve customer problems effectively. Present a clear, well-curated set of solutions appropriately packaged based on your expertise. Especially when the solution is complex and differentiated, customers look to the seller for leadership and expertise. Putting all the options in front of the customer and asking, “What do you want?” doesn’t position you as the expert you strived to be throughout the sales process.
(Bundling is a separate topic, but consider the wisdom of car manufacturers offering only a few trim options [Honda CR-V EX, EX-L, and LX, for example] rather than offering every single feature individually. Offering and pricing each feature separately would substantially slow the buying process, not to mention dramatically increase the price sensitivity.)
GIVE THE CUSTOMER WHAT THEY WANT, BUT DON’T GIVE IN TO PRICE PRESSURE.
Even if sellers have done an excellent job creating clear, well-curated proposals, they can destroy customer trust if they cave to customer price pressure at the drop of a hat to win the deal. (If you sell a professional service such as consulting, engineering, marketing, design, etc., this applies especially to you.)
Customers begin to experience how you operate, how you deliver value (or not), and how they can trust you (or not) from the first interaction.
Standing firm on price shows that you have the backbone to give them the support and help they need post-sale to improve their business even in the face of opposition. If you must modify the price to win the deal, what scope change makes sense? Or can you ask the customer for something such as a written testimonial or an introduction to someone in their business circle you’ve been trying to reach?
If you are a pushover on price negotiation, how can they trust you to consult effectively? How can they trust you to tell them where the pitfalls are in their marketing programs or their financial projections or their engineering plans? If you will say anything to keep them happy like you did to win the business, can they really trust you to give them the information they need post-sale to improve their business?
CUSTOMER VALUE STARTS BEFORE THE SALE.
Consider that your customer’s perception of your value starts well before the sale is even completed. Customers begin to experience how you operate, how you deliver value (or not), and how they can trust you (or not) from the first interaction. How you propose, price, and negotiate sends a signal to the customer about how the rest of the relationship will go.
Do you operate with price integrity? Do you lead the sales process with clear, decisive, helpful information to guide them to a prudent decision? Can they trust you?