In many ways the obsession with total marks and not how they were arrived at, is reminiscent of how buyer’s buy-selectively.

“What did he get?” This question was asked by millions of Kenyans last week immediately after the results for the national examination (KCPE) were announced. The expected response to a child’s performance in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education is a figure; preferably one above 400.  In many ways the obsession with total marks and not how they were arrived at, is reminiscent of how buyer’s buy-selectively. And the select lens they look at it from is the one that serves them. What do I mean?

Many students with more than 400 marks did not have A’s in all their subjects. For instance, out of a possible 500 marks, a student could have 410, arrived at from four subjects with ninety, and one, fifty per cent. Yet, that doesn’t seem to matter when one asks, ““What did he get?” So much so that, if the response was, “He had all As”, could even be construed to mean you are hiding something. And that’s a buyer for you-they just want to know what they need to know; and what they want to know is what assuages their pain point.

Grades or marks, what’s the difference?

It does not matter if the child had 396 made up of four straight As and an A-. What they want to know is, “Can your product reduce the spillage by 30%?” If you are to make headway in the sale, the response had better be yes. Explaining that the buyer’s costs will increase and that the product also comes with this and that gizmo will only serve to irritate the buyer at best or lose his interest at worst. Sadly, this is the reality of selling; buyers do not necessarily buy the best product; they buy the one that solves their problem. And the seller that dwells on showing how his product is superior to the competitor’s runs the risk of losing the sale; conversely, one that focuses on demonstrating how his product solves the customer’s problem, will more likely win the sale.

Limit details to where necessary

So, does it mean that the details are not necessary? Absolutely not. Away from the public eye, the question, “What did he get?” will be asked but answered differently. In private, the details could likely end up tilting the balance in favour of the superior product. When decisions are being made about whom to go with, the buyer could ask, “Now that they both solve our problem, what else do they have?” Suddenly, the lustre on 410 marks could quickly fade with, “His score in Mathematics was only fifty per cent.” Or, the business equivalent would be, “They scored top in their pitch. The problem is, they are too big to give us adequate attention. However, number two is hungry for business and will give us their full attention. You could even tell by the respectful and detailed way they pitched and showed understanding of our problem.”

Pitch first to the problem; then give the bonuses.

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