Paul shares ideas on how to have better conversations with your customers—conversations on value rather than price.
Anytime you discuss price before you can communicate value, your price is going to be too high (so says the customer).
As a customer-focused seller, you’re not changing the conversation from price to avoid what the customer wants to discuss, rather, you’re helping the customer get out of their own way.
Keeping it simple is not always the best path. Help your customers understand the complexity of their needs.
Ask the right questions to help shift the customer’s focus from short term to long term—from sacrifice to outcomes.
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How do I change the customer conversation?
(Transcribed from podcast)
On today’s episode, we’re going to discuss changing the conversation. You know, it’s interesting. I work with sales teams quite a bit every single week, and one thing I’ve noticed is that sellers continually get frustrated with customers who steer the conversation towards price. This is not limited to any one particular industry. I see this all the time, where salespeople early-on are forced into the pricing conversation prematurely. What we know is that anytime you discuss price before you can communicate value, your price is going to be too high. And the reason why, the customer is yet to really understand what you can do for them. So we’re going to discuss how to change that conversation.
Before we do that, though, remember to pick up your copy of Value-Added Selling. In Value-Added Selling, we establish an entire process around this concept of changing the conversation. You can learn how to sell the concept, you can learn how to stretch that time horizon, and also, enlarge the conversation. These are a few ideas we’re going to talk about in today’s episode, so pick up your copy. Value-Added Selling is available wherever you get your books.
So, I think about the conversations we have with customers, and I’m reminded of one of my favorite Don Draper quotes from Mad Men. In this particular episode, Don Draper is pitching an idea to a PR firm, I believe, and during his pitch, he says, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” And although Draper was trying to pitch his deal, his advice surely applies to salespeople as well.
Now, if you’re truly a customer-focused salesperson, that means you are helping the customer achieve their desired outcomes. Yet, too many sellers permit customers to focus on price versus value. This impacts their ability to achieve their goals. So, our goal here is, we are customer focused and we’re not changing the conversation to avoid what our customer wants to discuss. Instead, we’re changing the conversation to help customers get out of their own way. So I’m going to share a few ideas on today’s episode on how you can have better conversations.
The first idea is to acknowledge price but shift the conversation to overall cost. When we’re talking to a customer and they prematurely want to focus on price, we need to acknowledge that price is going to be a factor, but change the conversation to cost. And you’ve probably heard me demonstrate this on the show before. But simply acknowledge price and then ask the customer, “I understand price is a factor, but the reason you’re focused on price is because you want to save on your overall cost. Is that right?” This thought-provoking question immediately shifts the conversation from price, which is short term, which is transactional, to the broader concept of cost. Cost is broader because it includes everything the buyer sacrifices. Like the tip of an iceberg, price is visible and tangible, but total costs exist below the surface—it’s less visible—and so we need to draw that out. So, focus the conversation on any and all ways you reduce overall cost. That could be time savings, reducing waste, downtime, minimizing downtime, eliminating it completely. Whatever it is, just shift that conversation by acknowledging price, but change it to cost.
The second idea is to change the conversation from savings to difference. Here’s what typically happens. Customers will put two proposals next to each other, or they’re going to look at your presentation and your competitor. Either way, they’re going to look at the two price points. They’re going to see you at, let’s say, a $100,000. Your competition is at $90,000. They’re going to view the $10,000 difference as a savings, and they may even tell this to you. They may say, “Look, we can save $10,000 if we go with the competition.” We want to change the conversation from savings to difference. Use the price difference as a starting point to differentiate your overall solution.
So, here’s how you may frame this up. Let’s say you’re talking to the customer, and again, the customer says, “Look, we can save $10,000 if we decide to go with your competitor.” Again, acknowledge the difference and say, “I understand there’s a difference in our price.” Do not use the word(s), “I know we’re higher.” Do not say, “Yeah, I know our price is high.” Instead, use the word difference. So again, just to recap. Acknowledge the difference in price, but then use that as a way to acknowledge your overall difference.
Here’s how it may sound: “Mr. Customer. I know there’s a difference in our price, but the reason there’s a difference in our price is because there’s a huge difference in what you’re going to get in our solution.” Now you’ve regained positive control; you have changed the conversation from price to your key differences. Again, if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. By acknowledging what they say, you can then shift it in a more positive direction. We don’t have to agree with the buyer that our price is high, just acknowledge the difference, shift the conversation, and develop at least three key differences.
When you’re looking at your solution and the competitor, be able to speak to three key differences and explain why that is meaningful. For example, maybe your solution can help reduce overall cost by eliminating ongoing maintenance. Maybe your solution is easier to install—that’s going to save labor. Maybe your solution will last longer, thus, they don’t need to repurchase it or purchase it again, whatever it may be. So just consider that. Come up with three ideas to help differentiate your alternative.
In this third idea, we’re going to talk about sophisticating the simple. We’re going to talk about taking it from simple to complex. Now, I know in business we often hear the expression, “Hey, let’s keep it simple. Let’s keep it simple.” When it comes to discovering your customer’s needs, we don’t need to keep it simple—let’s keep it complex, and here’s why. When a buyer has a more accurate view of their needs and they understand, then, that their needs are not simple, they’re complex; they’re not generic, they are unique. When they have a broader view of their needs, they become more open to your value-added solution. So, enlighten the buyer on the complexity of their needs. As buyers become aware of that, again, they’re going to focus less on price and more on your value.
So let’s begin by saying, “Hey, I understand the need to focus on the immediate needs, but considering the complexity of your business, you’re going to need more than a supplier. You need a partner throughout this project to help train, implement, and support you. Here’s how we can support you.” You’ll notice what we’re doing here is we’re shifting the conversation. We’re acknowledging that they do have complex needs. From there, we can then begin asking questions. Again, whoever’s asking questions is controlling the sale and controlling the conversation. So you may follow up that transitional statement by saying “What are your key concerns for this project? Looking at the entire scope here, what’s going to be most important to you when making this decision? Based on your previous experiences, what are we trying to avoid this time around?” We’re trying to enlighten the buyer on the complexity of their needs. If they have complex needs, they are more open to your value-added solution.
The final piece here—we’ve talked about this before, just a quick reminder, really. Let’s shift the focus from short term to long term. What we know about decision making is that we as humans, we are hard biased for immediacy and sure things. We want it and we want it now. We’re instant-gratification-seeking individuals. And so that means buyers tend to take a short-term focus as well. We need to shift their attention long term. What we know is, when buyers think long term, they’re more focused on the outcomes that they’re going to receive versus what they must sacrifice in order to attain it. And I’m not just talking about the price differential that they’ll be paying for your solution, I’m also talking about the time, energy, and effort that goes into either implementing a new solution or replacing an incumbent supplier. So we want to stretch the conversation into the future, and we do that by asking long-term questions. Questions like this:
“Long-term on this project, what’s going to be important to you?” Or
“At the end of this project, six months from now, what would cause you to say that you’re glad you partnered with us?”
We’re getting the buyer to think long term. And long term, the buyer will focus on outcomes.
Once again, if you don’t like what’s being said, then change the conversation. Don Draper, thank you for that absolute solid nugget. We appreciate that. And he’s a local St. Louisan, Jon Hamm—same as me. Although I will admit, he’s probably slightly better looking. I can acknowledge it.
Make it a big day.