Changing the Customer Conversation

I have been saying for many years that we have to sell the end result and not the plan. That means focusing on outcomes for the customer instead of the parts and pieces of the transaction. In order to do this, AV companies must first do three things:

1. Identify (and understand) the Ideal Customer

2. Develop and promote a compelling Value Proposition

3. Understand how your Pricing affects gross profit

If you have taken the time to truly understand the three points above, then you will have taken steps to change how you market your services. Customer qualification will be taken seriously. Value will replace price in conversation. Margin contribution will supplant gross profit when evaluating pricing. Your pitches and proposals will look dramatically different. Negotiation will be peer-to-peer instead of fear-based.

However, I must caution that these steps alone are not enough to undo years of selling on price. As an industry, AV companies have trained their customers to be excellent price-shoppers. Line item proposals and head-to-head competition on cost give the buyer a satisfying victory in negotiation, but often fail to deliver the outcomes they were seeking in the first place. Changing this circular logic takes time and effort on the part of the seller, but we have to start somewhere.

Which brings us to the point of this piece: How do you get existing customers to consider you in a different light? You need to embark on an earnest and forthright relationship reset. Every buyer will need a different touch, but here are sample approaches based on the three primary Customer Buying Styles:

Confidence Customers consider you to be the expert and welcome your guidance. On your next project, let them know you are exploring a new approach to scope and pricing and would like their feedback. Walk them through your outcome-based proposal and emphasize the ROI of their choices. You might get some great feedback that will help you uncover even more value. In general, these are the customers that are the most receptive to change.

Value Customers focus on getting the most value for their money. They aren’t necessarily price shoppers, but can turn into one if your value proposition isn’t substantial. Show them how you are able to maximize value by selling an outcome instead of the plan. “Our best customers share their budget and expectations early in our conversations, which allows us to maximize your ROI. When we have to guess at your needs and resources, it forces us to hold something back.

Control Customers are the most skeptical. They view themselves as the expert and want plans and details to verify that you are working to their specification. Rather than shifting to an outcome-based approach all at once, carefully choose elements of your project that lend themselves to outcome-based selling. For example, instead of describing the parts and pieces of a complex audio system, describe the outcome of that system, which is “Our scope is that everyone in the room will be able to hear equally well. Here is what we typically would use (describe in broad terms). Your system will be custom designed once we are engaged.”

In closing, there are two important points to keep in mind and they apply to almost all buyers. One, a question is not always an objection. Just because the buyers asks for an explanation doesn’t mean they are rejecting what you shared. Two, most valid concerns are single-level objections. If you can provide a credible response to the issue, the objection will dissolve. In either case, treat a question or objection as interest. Use the opportunity to teach and don’t forget to check whether your response addressed the issue.

Happy Selling!

Tom Stimson MBA, CTS helps owners and management teams rediscover the fun and profit that comes from making better decisions about smarter goals. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes. Since 2006, Tom has successfully advised over two hundred companies and organizations on business strategy, process, marketing, and sales. Learn More at TRSTIMSON.COM