Martin Luther King Jr. once said ‘… We may have come in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” It may seem to be a stretch at first, but this thought applies to sales relationships too. It is the idea that when people in a business relationship think of themselves as being on the same team, things start to get easier. Positive attitudes and the willingness to collaborate grow more readily.
Understanding your customer is an important component of building business relationships that help to make all involved feel that you are pulling (or sailing) in the same direction. If you can understand what would happen from the customer perspective if they do NOT do a deal with you, you can change the conversation. Changing the conversation is not hard to do but it takes time to gather the right information, to test the information with coaches and champions, and consider how to present the information in a way that is compelling for key customer contacts. This means changing the conversation from the typical level 1 sales conversation (‘I have something to sell and you should buy it’) to a more strategic, level 3, partnership-type conversation (‘Through my research, I understand that you are trying to achieve XYZ. Business experience indicates that these might be the high priority decision criteria you would consider.')
Take time to put the information you have gathered together. Use your business knowledge and data to anticipate what the customer WOULD do if they do not do a deal with you. Then Identify all (not just the obvious) impacts to the customer if they do not do a deal with you. Prioritize these impacts from the customer point of view. These impacts are actually the customer decision criteria, criteria the customer has determined will help them achieve their goals. Consider how well your solution can address each of these decision criteria compared to the customer’s preference if they do not do a deal with you. Where the customer’s key decision criteria is high priority AND your solution can address these impacts better than the customer’s preference if they do not do a deal with you, become your points of differentiation.
Now you should be able to talk to the customer about their decision criteria, contributing criteria they may not have considered. Then you are in a good position to discuss how your solution can help the customer achieve their goals better than the customer’s preference if they do not do a deal with you.
Changing the conversation in a business relationship to help all key players involved in the negotiation feel you are all together in the same boat can help you win the deal and build those long-term business relationships for which we strive.