Avoid confrontation with buyers by treating their problem, not symptom

Contrary to popular belief, buyers don’t know what they want.

A bull fight is representative of a misguided seller- buyer relationship. The two lock horns, each digging into his heels, a relationship is broken and future sales lost. This usually occurs when the buyer is experiencing the product; sadly, at this point, the purchase has already happened and one ‘bull’ snorts, “This is not what we wanted”, while the other grunts back, “But we met the terms of reference down pat.”

Drill or hole in the wall?

Why does this happen? Many times this is borne out of a seller who diagnosed based on the seller’s self-prognosis. Let me explain. When a buyer says, “I want to buy a drill”, the average seller does just that-sells him a drill.  And yet, very likely it’s not a drill he wanted; what he wanted was a hole in the wall; but even that is not his actual problem-what he really wants is to hang a picture. And yet, he presented this problem as “I want to buy a drill”! The progressive seller doesn’t sell the drill; instead he sells, ‘hanging the picture’. And he does this by engaging the buyer through questions to explore why he needs the drill.

Having settled on the core problem he may choose to solve it via suggesting non-intrusive methods like stick-on hooks or suction pads. This is a simple instance of a misunderstood buyer. When what is involved is, say, an enterprise-wide software installation, the misdiagnosis can have far reaching consequences. And the aggrieved buyer will spit, “You people don’t know what you are doing”, or, “Buying your product was a complete waste of our time and money.”

Buyers don’t know what they want

How does this happen? Because, contrary to popular belief, buyers don’t know what they want. Just as with patients, customers are not always right; in fact, the more with their self-prognosis. That doesn’t absolve the seller from responsibility though. The customer may not always be right (and thus lead you to misdiagnose); but the customer remains King (which gives him the leeway to blame you when your product doesn’t take away his pain).

And so the ‘King’ goes to assuage his pain elsewhere. The second seller, learning from your mistakes and the ranting of the enlightened buyer, firmly nails the buyer’s problem- and the buyer cements his belief that you didn’t know what you were doing.

You line up the sale for competition

It therefore behooves the seller to explore through questions and not to be too quick to sell. Just as a doctor doesn’t prescribe based on your symptoms but from his findings of what the problem is, so should the seller, when the buyer says, ‘“I want a drill”’.

Admittedly, sometimes this approach can hit a snag when it’s a tender; where exploring could have the seller disqualified on the basis of canvassing. In this instance, buyers should be wary of setting themselves up for a misdiagnosis by involving sellers in crafting the tender. As this will rarely happen, progressive sellers research what is public knowledge, or, better still,  entrench themselves into the specs creation stage of the tender by presenting themselves as advisers.


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