3 Reasons to Ignore “Voice of the Customer”

The basic concept behind “voice of the customer” calls for you to sell to his or her stated needs. After all, your customers (clients/prospects) know their situation and what they need.  Right?

They’re in the trenches every day and live with the pain of the problem they want to fix. What’s more, they hold a clear vision for their solution.

Here’s your problem. If your sales and marketing strategy centers on selling to the voice of the customer, you will not create the real differentiation you need to stand apart from other sellers.

You’ll miss the opportunity to hold a dynamic, probing conversation because “voice of the customer” selling limits you to their stated needs.

We see this dilemma often in the RFP process (request for proposal). Internally, the buying influences get together, identify a problem, do their research and draft an RFP to send to potential vendors. They specify the criteria for making the decision, invite five to ten companies to respond, then select the final three from their bake off. Sound familiar?

Other than price how do they make their decision?

Most of us were taught to diagnose the problem, then present our solution. Makes sense.

Indeed, your experience and sales process was built on uncovering issues and prescribing your solution for similar situations. Who better than you and your organization to solve this problem?

However, one major problem crops up with this scenario. Despite your experience, remember, this is the first time your prospect is experiencing your sales process.

And because your competitors sell the same way, responding only to your prospect’s stated needs could validate his perception that you are a commodity provider─your solution offers no difference from other qualified vendors in your market.

No differentiation, combined with little or no motivation for the prospect to change status quo, does not win the sale.

A recent Harvard Business Review article quoted CSO Insights’ survey data:

Our customers are coming to the table armed to the teeth with a deep understanding of their problem and a well-scoped RFP for a solution. It’s turning many of our sales conversations into (simply) fulfillment conversations.

Another example from one of my retirement advisory clients:

We do a good job of engaging with potential clients, uncover the need to reduce expense loads, reduce the investment funds to improve performance and communication, and offer solid communication and administration services, only to find ourselves in that dreaded RFP process.

The status quo or no-decision comes from the fact that you sound so much like your competitors, your prospect sees no sense of urgency to do anything differently.

Indecisiveness steals the moment because your prospect cannot see sufficient contrast between his status quo, you and the competition. Often, your prospect may resort to asking the incumbent to fix his problem, if he fixes it at all.

If you pass the initial selection process and move to the finals, your buy-sell conversation typically shifts to price instead of value; you failed to convince your prospect you’re not a commodity.

Your Differentiation – Selling to the Unconsidered Need

To stand out from the crowd, you need a different approach. You need a way to lay the groundwork for change by telling prospects something they don’t already know about their status quo situation.

If you simply show up and present a solution to a problem the prospect already sees, outlined in the chart below, you bring no real value and you will not be considered a trusted advisor.

Source: PleinAire Strategies MERGE 2.0

A study by Corporate Visions and Zakary Tormala, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, concluded you can better differentiate and win more sales by introducing messaging around an unconsidered needs sales pitch first; that is, communicate the deficiencies or missed opportunities prospects haven’t yet considered.

This approach outperformed the standard “voice of the customer” approach by creating influence with buyers, including perceived quality and uniqueness, as well as “the positive effect on attitude and choice ratings.”

Here are three types of unconsidered needs you can introduce early in your prospect conversations to disrupt his status quo and keep him from seeing your solution as a commodity:

1) Undervalued needs

Consider which rapidly approaching trends or issues have been underestimated by your prospect. Magnify the seriousness of these problems, emphasizing how the associated risks pose a threat to your prospect’s most important business objectives.

Bring insights, perspective and research to bear that amplifies the size and speed of these problems, transforming them in your prospect’s vision from minor issues into urgent priorities.

You can then link unconsidered needs to your unique strengths, helping buyers see not only why it’s time to change, but why they should select you and your organization.

2) Unmet needs

Your prospect doesn’t realize he harbors unmet needs because he used workarounds or stopgap measures to conceal the root of the pain. However, make no mistake, the pain is real.

It is your job to prove how the prospect’s status quo situation is unsafe because of these unmet needs. Then, you can guide your prospect toward the idea that you’ve developed a better, more viable long-term solution to what ails him.

3) Unknown needs

When a vendor offers a solution to longer-term issues not in the prospect’s awareness, the prospect will take notice because he fears not knowing what’s coming at him down the road. Expand the value of your deals by identifying these “off-the-radar” problems, and bring them into the life cycle of your deal. Uncover these issues through careful research into the prospect’s company and industry.

By identifying and introducing these unconsidered needs to your prospects, you can change the way you approach new sales opportunities. As a result, you will project a unique perspective that unhinges the status quo and opens prospects up to the possibility of doing something different.

Leverage is the beauty of this unconsidered needs approach. When used at the outset of sales messaging, it helps to overcome human behavior and our innate cognitive biases. In making decisions, your prospect struggles mightily with his biases. To explain, I’ve pulled an excerpt from an excellent article in Strategy + Business magazine, “Beyond Bias”:

“Bias is universal. There is a general human predisposition to make fast and efficient judgments, and you are just as susceptible to this as anyone else. If you believe you are less biased than other people, that’s probably a sign that you are more biased than you realize.

It is difficult to manage for bias in the moment you’re making a decision. You need to design practices and processes in advance. Consciously identify situations in which more deliberative thought and strategies would be helpful, and then set up the necessary conversations and other mechanisms for mitigating bias.”

Use the unconsidered needs strategy as your advanced conversation platform to elevate prospects to “deliberative thought” and buy decisions in both their interest and yours.

See you on the upside,

Bill

For more information, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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