I once watched this Johnny Carson episode where he has this really cute smart kid on the show who looked like that kid from the movie "Jerry Maguire."
Carson was trying to impress him with his magic trick of making a coin disappear.
The kid is playing along with Johnny but is not too impressed, so he finally asks Carson with a smile, "Mr. Carson, how do you make money really disappear?"
Carson, with his great timing, deadpans into the camera and says, "Get Married!"
We are often child like where we want to know from a customer, "Mr. Customer, what do you really want to buy?" Unfortunately, customers are not as transparent as comedians, otherwise we salespeople would not have a job. You have to really dig hard to get to what customers really want to buy. Often it is not the customers' fault since they may not even know what they want. This is the biggest challenge salespeople face everyday. If you can figure this out then you will definitely have "arrived."
In the book "Think Like a Freak" by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, they provide couple of examples that shows that we don't do what we tell people we are going to do. They write: "We’ll often say one thing and do another— or, more precisely, we’ll say what we think other people want to hear and then, in private, do what we want. In economics, these are known as declared preferences and revealed preferences, and there is often a hefty gap between the two."
What often happens in buying is something I call a cycle of logic-emotion-logic until the customer makes the purchase. The customer thinks he knows what he is going to buy and can logically explain it till emotion takes over; his mind suddenly changes and now he has to justify it with new logic to make the purchase, unless another emotion event occurs that will override the previous logic and be replaced by new logic. If the logic for your product or solution holds till the purchase then you win otherwise you will be relegated to hear why someone else won.
How do you prevent this from happening?
This is hard since there are so many signals sent that we often miss them or signals we don't even know exist. This is what I think makes sales so challenging; it is getting into a customer' brain and no one has figured this out, though we are getting closer with data analysis but that seems to be mroe effective in business to consumer (B2C) not business to business (B2B).
Few years ago my friend sought my advice for a car he wanted to purchase for his daughter who just got a job in New York City. He told me that the car would mostly be used by his daughter to to drive over a bridge near their house to park it on the other side of the highway (less than a mile away) to catch a bus for her daily commute to New York City. Based on that information, I told him that a perfect car for his daughter's need would be a Honda Fit. I said that's the car I would purchase and he agreed and thanked me for my help. I felt good that he came to me for an advice and I thought I gave him the optimal solution for his needs.
Few weeks later he comes over my house to watch a football game and informs me that he bought a new car, so I asked him, "Where is the car? I don't see it outside of my driveway."
He said, "He will gain possession in three months."
I said, "I didn't realize that Honda Fits were in such high demand."
He said, "I didn't buy a Honda Fit."
As it turned out, he bought the new Land Rover Evoque that had just come out. I fell for his logic of what his needs were and recommended the car that would satisfy his need. Evidently emotion overruled that logic and made him purchase the Evoque and he had logic to rationalize his decision.
I had to get to the bottom of this so I asked him more questions to see if I could connect the dots and possibly learn a valuable lesson from this on how someone buys so, as a salesman, I have a better understanding on how a customer comes to a purchase decision using my friend as an example.
Connecting the Decision Dots
What car did he currently have at that time? BMW, so was Honda Fit ever going to be considered? I think not; he was polite but as I realized later Honda Fit was not a good fit for him.
Here is what I discovered from talking to him. My friend is a businessman and wanted to stay in the luxury car price range, so he went to a BMW dealer to purchase the BMW RDX. At the dealership when he saw other people of the same ethnic background also in the market to purchase the same model, he changed his mind since he wanted to be different and not be another successful ethnic family with a BMW RDX. He and his daughter left the BMW dealership and went to a Land Rover dealership nearby and made a decision to purchase the Evoque, a new model that had just come out.
But why Land Rover? I think his being British had something to do with the decision.
How was I supposed to figure all this out? I can see that I focused only on the logic but completely ignored the emotion part of the decision making process. I failed to get him to focus on the emotion of buying a car or perhaps there was nothing I could have done but was doomed from the start the way I approached his car buying decision.
This is not easy; a salesman who can take a customer from customers' own logic of purchase to his emotion of the purchase to new logic is what I think really separates a good salesman from a great salesman. A great salesman is like Steve Jobs often used what he called his reality distortion field (RDF) to get customers to change their minds and get them to accept the new reality and then complete the process with salesmen's logic to justify their decision to purchase and feel good about it in the process. This is where great salesmen shine and are at the top of their profession. They will never be replaced by any machine for a long time, if ever.
Now I was not with my friend when he made his decision, but when he told me he had purchased an Evoque I immediately thought of RDF taking over so I wanted to find out how he could have possibly arrived at his decision.
What did I miss when I finally connected the dots of my friend's purchase of the Evoque?
- I should have realized that he had a BMW and he was not likely to purchase a car that was not in a similar price range.
- I did not talk to my friend's daughter regarding what she wanted.
- My friend also wanted to purchase a car that he and his wife could also use, so the car was not only going to be driven by his daughter.
- My friend is a successful businessman so status played a role in his decision.
- My friend was born in Britain which I completely ignored; evidently there is some familiarity, if not attachment, to the Land Rover brand since the Royal Family is often seen driving the Land Rover.
When you look at it after the fact, it makes a lot of sense but during my talk with my friend, these things were not even considered, so as one smart sales professional once told me that the only antidote to losing in sales is to always qualify till the contract is signed since people are very susceptible to changing their minds. If you are on the losing end, all you will get to hear is their justification on why your product or solution was not chosen. This is not a very pleasant conversation to have.
I am sure there were probably more questions that I could have asked my friend and come up with a recommendation based on his emotion related to the car purchase. I did not do this since I was not engaging in a high stakes sales with him, but nevertheless it taught me a very valuable lesson on how people make up their minds when it comes to purchasing that I had never analyzed in such detail before. How often do we fall into this kind of a trap and and not even know why we lost a particular deal?
The challenge in sales is not what customers are telling about what they want or need; it is more about figuring out what the customers are not telling you what they really want and need which they can't articulate it to you for whatever reason. How good you are at "fracking" this out from them will determine how successful you are at winning in sales.
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