Closing Sales By Targeting Customer's Needs

Originally published: 11.09.11 by Geoffrey James

Use language and concepts that resonate with customers.

Customers are smart. They want you and your competitors to get into a price war so that they can spend as little as possible to solve their problems. They want everyone to compete for their business, so they try to blur the differences or "differentiators" (as they're sometimes called) that might justify a higher price.

Your challenge is to make the customer realize that those differences have value so that they won't mind paying a higher price. The key to doing that is making certain that the customer — not your product or firm — is the core of all your sales messages, and making sure that there are financial proof-points. Here's what you do:

1. Realize that price isn't the issue. According to Dean Schantz, a senior consultant with the analyst firm Corporate Visions Inc., research reveals that even with fully commoditized products (where there's no differentiation at all between competitive offerings), low price is the dominant factor in the buying decision only 15% of the time. In the majority of cases, other factors (convenience, location, brand familiarity, personality of the sales rep, etc.) are either more important or just as important. So even if your offering didn't have differentiators, you could still command a higher price, as long as that price is not wildly out of line with the competition.

2. Determine the value of your differentiators to the customer. Don't accept your customers' pretended opinion that price trumps everything. Instead, estimate the financial impact of your product differentiators on the customer. Example: If your product uniquely solves a certain problem relative to the weather in your region, estimate the impact that feature will have on the customer's cost structure. Thinking about financial impact forces you to consider the problem/solution from the customer's perspective, rather than your own, internal, technical perspective.

3. Express those differences from the customer's viewpoint. Stop talking about your product or your firm. Instead, craft a set of sales messages that use the second person (e.g., YOU) rather than the first person (e.g., WE or I) to tell a story that's meaningful to the customer. For example, rather than saying something like: "We have a leading-edge system," say something like: "You will be warned when the energy prices are likely to go up, so that you can readjust your system quickly — at an average savings of $100 per day."

4. Make the messages emotional and concrete. Think of messages as having two sliding scales. The first scale has "Intellectual" at one end, and "Emotional" at the other. The second scale has "Abstract" at one end, and "Concrete" at the other. The most unpersuasive messages are always intellectual and abstract; the most persuasive messages are emotional and concrete.

For example, let's suppose you're selling a piece of installation equipment. 

Here are four possible messages:

* Version 1: It will make your team more productive.

(Abstract, intellectual)

* Version 2: Your team will double their install rate.

(Concrete, but still intellectual)

* Version 3: Your customers will appreciate the time savings.

(Emotional, but still abstract.)

* Version 4: Your team will double their install rate, which will allow you to win more business without hiring more workers.

(Concrete, emotional)

Now, assuming that all four messages were backed with hard data proving that they're true, which of the four is more likely to make a customer feel like buying a new piece of equipment?

5. Retrain your sales team. Now that you've recrafted your messages, retrain your sales team to sell your solution as it's seen from the customer's viewpoint. Make sure that the sales team can eloquently express the financial impact on the customer as a proof point that more than justifies the higher price. (This may mean throwing out some of your marketing materials.) Important: Also train your team to NEVER discount, because discounting undercuts the value of your uniqueness.

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