Customer knows more than me


I got an email recently from a old Sales Colleague at Carrier which made me think about how the way we used to sell our Building Services and FM Maintenance services. It was especially pertinent as so many Sales methods have changed over the last few years. I thought you might be interested in finding out and it might help you make some changes in the way you sell too.

What’s changed is the difference in how your clients think and work.

What I’m finding is that clients nowadays will only make contact once they have done a far more thorough research of their problems in advance than before, and often they have already figured out a solution to those issues already, even before they’ve got in contact with me. Often my customer knows more than me – Or so they think!

Are you’ve finding this with your clients too?

Looking back to the 90’s, clients were mostly non-technical but aware of the issues they were having with their buildings. But they usually didn’t have the knowledge or experience to know why those problems were happening, and what the solution might be, they relied on the contractors knowledge to get them out of trouble.

They would have different contractors or specialists for different things. One for Air Con/Chillers, One for Heating/Hot Water, BMS, Water Treatment – you get the picture. So if it got too cold in Winter they would call the Heating guys!

So the Carrier sales process focused on diagnosing their problem, how much of an impact it was having on the occupants, and suggesting some potential solutions. Basic straightforward consultative selling.

In the mind of the buyer, this process did three important things. First it identified what the real problem was, so what I was proposing was the right solution. Second, by exploring the actual impact on the buildings occupants, we could see whether the problem could be solved (and if it was, it motivated the client to hire my company to solve it).

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, it identified me (and therefore my company) as experts.

So looking at it from a psychological standpoint as the buyer, because I was able to figure out their technical problems – show them where the real problem was, and what the actual impact was on their occupants  – it gave me and therefore Carrier some major credibility. It gave clients the confidence that I (and therefore my company) would be able to solve those problems because I’d understood what they were when they hadn’t.

However fast-forward to today and how you sell to the Building manager or (whatever their title is now) is a different scenario. Now those customers are more switched on, are better trained are more technical and have done their research online. (I knew that flipping Tinterweb thing would be a pain!).

If they get in contact with you believing they’ve already identified their problems and have the answers then your relationship with them is very different.

You’re no longer the trusted reliable adviser helping them through the problem-solving process. You’re now just any old supplier and they’re telling you what they want from you.

If all you can do in response is to say “yes, we can do that” then where’s the value added service you provide? To make matters worse, you’re not exactly filling the client with confidence in your knowledge or expertise (unless you can challenge one of their preconceived ideas of course). Also, you’re no different from all the other suppliers he’s spoken to who also say “yes, we can do that”. There is nothing to set you apart

So the question is how’s he going to choose a suitable supplier if all the suppliers look like they do and say the same thing? The only way possible is having the lowest Price. That is never the best way to win you the project!

So, how do you get out of this “trap”?

One of the best ways is if they’ve discovered the type of problem they are having, and what product or service they need (to solve that problem) from your speciality or niche M&E, HVAC, FM website, because they see you as the experts and leaders in your field and therefore the only Company they want to work with. That’s what I’m aiming for with my Business and it’s something I recommend you do too.

However in many cases (no matter how much effort I put into web marketing) that won’t be the case. They’ll have found out what they need from other Internet resources. Some good, some not so good. But either way they’re coming to me with preconceived thoughts about their marketing problems already. The same thing will often happen to you and your specialist product or service.

So when you do have a meeting with them, how do you handle that?

Fortunately the good news is that you’re still being recognised as the real expert.

They might have done some research about their particular M&E problems on the web which may point them in the general direction – but it doesn’t give them the years of experience and technical knowledge that you have to  confidently explain in layman’s terms what they actually need to fix them.

It’s important that you get that knowledge and expertise across to them.

However just telling them you’re an expert isn’t enough. You know that right?.

Even with all the customers reviews case studies and testimonials, and all those articles you’ve had published in the trade magazines, it still isn’t enough. They are almost expected these days (However if you haven’t got any then that will hinder you) These are considered as social proof. In other words who else has had similar problems and how did they overcome them? So as we have said may times before you have to get testimonials.

What works best is creating a “light on” moment.

Put simply when you are having a discussion with your potential clients, a light bulb suddenly switches on in their heads. Something you say helps them to see what you are saying in a different way.

They take a wider view into their overall cause problem – not necessarily just the immediate issue. They suddenly see a much better solution. They realise that before they were looking at just a “sticking plaster” to fix just the immediate issue. the idea being that makes them look at the issue in a different way.

It also makes them realise there’s more to the immediate issue that they first thought. More importantly it shows that you really know what you’re talking about – especially if your M&E product or service is in a niche, and that you (and therefore your company) are different from those other suppliers who just said “yes, we can do that”.

So how do you get those brilliant “lights on” moments?

You might actually be technically brilliant and be able to have these inspirations on the fly, however I would use a totally different approach.

I would start by doing a self-check of the services and projects and other type of work you do for clients.
Normally what you’d do in these audits is think through what problems each service solves for your clients. The typical benefits they deliver and what they could be worth to your future clients.

Now you should start to dig a bit deeper. You look for surprises. For each service you’ve delivered you look for what was new, insightful, unusual and surprising to the client you were working for. Try to find the things that are often “news”. The things that most clients didn’t realise before they started working with you. These could be stories where other clients had similar or related problems that you overcame

Let’s say you’re a pressurisation unit specialist and you find that clients are often surprised that on pressurised circuits, you usually get better results not by improving the water pressure, but by understanding what water circuits are connected and when and how the Chilled Water system is causing water pressure issues overall. (I just made that up by the way – please don’t email me if you’re a pressurisation unit expert and I’m talking nonsense).

Or you do technical product training and you find that most of your product training courses fail not because of the training itself – but because it’s not followed up and reinforced by field training, and individual support afterwards.

In fact, often the best way to get these “light on” moments is when they are related to practical examples of how you have made your product or service work, and demonstrating those with true actual customers are often the best – because they show you don’t just know the theory – you’re really been there and done it. If it’s practical you could either take them to meet your other customer or tee up a phone call to them.

Ask them some gentle probing questions to start their brains working at the bigger issue rather than just about the pressurisation unit. i.e. “Where do you think most of the water pressure issues are coming from?” and then you can turn that into a live past experience – Such as, “ with many of our other clients , they’ve found that in practice, …”

It’s important that you mustn’t make your client look like an technical idiot either because that will just blow your meeting out of the water. What you do is to ask enough sensible questions that they will work out the answers for themselves – or at least start to see where the problems might be coming from.

Then as you build on that and share some of your other customer experiences. They’ll look much deeper into the ideas you planted and they’ll start to work it out for themselves (and they’ll give you credit for helping you to do that for them too).

There’s no guarantee that this works every time. Sometimes your client really has worked out the actual issue by themselves already – after all there are more an more case studies being found online every day. Or they’ve already got their mind made up and they just won’t want to listen to what you have to say. They might see it as you trying to deflect the issue away from your M&E product or service. That’s just the way it is these days.

However more often that not by using this technique will help you to be seen as the trusted expert so that you’re not just another supplier saying “yes, we can do that”. You’re an knowledgeable trusted partner that they’ll want to do business with.

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