At the start-up stage, entrepreneurs are often a Jack of all trades out of necessity. However, once a company has grown to the stage where it hires qualified employees from among competing applicants, it’s time for Jack (or Jill) to acknowledge that he or she may no longer be the most qualified person for every job. This can be an expensive lesson to learn when it comes to selling a big-ticket product or contract to a prestigious prospect. In this case study, one founder learned the hard way that the prospects his company now sold to use a formal, rigid selection process, not the informal process he’d used to win his early customers.
This is one in a series of case studies highlighting “Key Questions and Course-correcting Quotes” taken from 20 years of B2B customer insight projects. All names are fictitious, but the situations are real. Case studies paint a picture of how important it is to learn what your B2B customers think — but aren’t saying. These are real-world examples of how soliciting and acting on customer feedback has helped companies hold onto customers longer, grow relationships bigger and pick up new business faster.
Case study: Don’t Bring a Nerf™ Bat to a Knife Fight!
Key Question: “They made it as far as the final presentation, but they weren’t selected. What cost them the sale?”
Executive: “I don’t know who that clown was who made the final presentation, but he kept going off on wild tangents. We couldn’t follow his presentation. He didn’t follow the format we gave everyone. The other vendors were clear about how their products met our needs. This guy was focused on what he wanted to tell us, not on what we asked to hear.”
My Client’s Quandary:
This loss caught the vendor by surprise. What had gone wrong? When you lose a sale, it’s smart to learn why. You don’t want to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. The “clown” the customer mentioned was the vendor’s founder. This would have been a prestigious account, so the founder made the final presentation himself. He was convinced only someone who really knew the product should make the final pitch. An expert technician, yet unsophisticated salesperson, the founder went into detail about feature after feature. He knew the product’s features well, but the prospect’s selection committee only wanted to hear about specific benefits. The prospect chose a vendor who stuck to the format, was clear and persuasive about the benefits the committee asked about, had good references, and whose price was in line with the other quotes.
As they say, “Don’t bring a Nerf™ bat to a knife fight.” If your sales hinge on winning a competitive selection process, either hire salespeople who know how to follow an agenda in a formal sales presentation, or hire a presentation coach to work with your team.
I categorize projects as assessments, investigations, treasure hunts or rescue missions. This project was an investigation. The client’s question was, “How did we lose the sale when we had the best product?”
If you have a superior product, invest in superior salespeople. Don’t assume your prospects know enough about your product or service to recognize quality. Good salespeople are effective even when they’re selling mediocre wares, and your competitors could have very good salespeople. Invest in people who know how to spoon-feed prospects what they want to know, and who can tell prospects what they need to know to separate marketing hype from substance.
Ann Amati, Principal, Deliberate Strategies Consulting, helps companies use guidance from their current and past customers to grow future sales. She has a 20-year track record of using deep-dive interviews to create positive turning points in her clients’ relationships with their customers.
In her national practice, Ann has clients who sell millions to companies that make billions and sole practitioners/LLCs with more modest practices. She is the author of, “What Your Customers Aren’t Telling You That You Need to Know,” a collection of case studies, tips and tools for companies in commercial and industrial sales.