Understanding Customers’ Motivations – by Babette Ten Haken

Just when you think you understand your clients, they go away. They put your proposal on the back burner. They specify the other vendor’s design. They don’t return your phone calls. They disappear into what my colleague, Jill Konrath, calls the “black hole” of sales.

Has this ever happened to you? Just when you thought you had all your stars aligned with the cosmos.  Poof! All gone….

Where did the client go? What did you do to make them go away? And how permanent is this situation? (OK, get your head out of your hands, take a deep breath, read on, my friend.)

All of us make some assumptions during the sales process that we shouldn’t, present company included.  In fact, my rule of thumb is: don’t make any assumptions at all.

We assume our clients are in pain. Therefore, it is up to us, as technical and non-technical salespeople, to drag them over their pain points so they come to the unavoidable conclusion to buy our solution. In this global economy, no matter how painful the situation, and how much your customers agree with you, your solution still has to fit into the overall infrastructure of their company, its major strategic pains, its priorities and its finances. Note to yourself: it is never about you, it’s about them. Did you take a 10,000 foot eagles’ eye view of the context into which you assume your client is going to be gung-ho to place your solution?

We assume we should be in selling mode because the customer makes an appointment to see us or conference with us. They simply may have had time on their hands. They may have been told by a higher up to “look into this” and are in a due-diligence mode so they can cross one more thing off their internal to-do list. Your willingness to show up and try to relationship build, end up sounding like a brochure on legs, or asking for a chance to prepare a proposal is just a bunch of busywork.  Are you being regarded as a commodity and fodder? Something to think about before making your next appointment to fill your sales quota.

We assume our clients are ready to buy what we want to sell to them. So we don’t listen to what they try to tell us during our meetings. We are so busy talking about how our product meets their needs and cures their “pain,” that we don’t pick up on ways in which we can align our solutions with their real priorities. Or we don’t pick up on the fact that they really aren’t interested in placing a solution at this time. Note to yourself: it is never about you, it’s about them. And customers will avoid going outside for a solution. Customers will first try to fix their “pain points” using internal resources.

We assume our clients are ready to change. Change means making a decision to move away from the status quo, or the way things are. Change means moving away from the stuff that got your clients where they are today. And it’s easier to make no decision and assume no risk for introducing disruption into the way things are, than to man the helm at the forefront of “change” in their organization. After all, they may think they are real comfortable in secure in their current job. Why rock that boat, right?

There’s an entirely parallel universe involved in understanding your customers’ motivations for placing your solution.

Take the time  to understand the context, algorithm and history of decision-making in your client’s organization before you move forward with a premature effort to sell a solution.

It’s the difference between developing business and selling.

And it doesn’t hinge on assumptions.


Babette N. Ten Haken believes the fulcrum for leveraging innovative business development is collaboration between technical and non-technical professionals. Her blog and company, Sales Aerobics for Engineers® consulting, training, and coaching, teaches good selling and business development practices to manufacturers, sales engineers, salespeople, engineers and entrepreneurs, seeking to grow their markets and customer base.  Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.com.

You can connect with Babette at salesaerobicsforengineersblog.com and doyoumeanbusiness.com, and on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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