February 12, 2013

Who’s Making It About Price, You or the Customer?

Salespeople love to complain that all the customer cares about is the price. When we don’t get a deal, we’re quick to point to our higher price as a major cause of defeat. My friend Anthony Iannarino has written extensively on the topic of price, and he points out that this excuse is usually a lie we tell ourselves. I’d encourage you to link over and read several of his thought-provoking posts about price, including this most recent one about the idiocy of matching a competitor’s price.

I am currently preparing a session for a client’s national learning conference where I intend to challenge the attendees with the question posed in the post title:  Who is making it about price – you or the customer?

While salespeople won’t readily admit it, in many cases, it is actually the salesperson initiating the price conversation.  Two years ago, a client had me do a “success study” comparing behaviors and attitudes of their top-performers against those were weren’t doing as well converting leads. One of the big findings from that study was that those struggling with conversions viewed the lead as price shopping vs. reps who were more successful that took a consultative approach, assuming the prospect had a problem that needed to be solved. Recently, I’ve been involved with a few sales teams that are hyper-sensitive about price because they’re part of industries where it feels like prices are perpetually falling. In fact, they’re so concerned about not being priced at a premium that they’re damaging how they’re perceived by potential customers. There is no way we can clearly articulate the value we deliver when we are obsessed with or panicked about the price we charge.

More often than not, it’s the salesperson who is making it about price.

Sometimes it’s intentional. Sometimes it’s just habit. Whatever the case, it’s taking its toll. Time and time again I see the salesperson initiating the price conversation. It’s coming through in their attitude, in their approach to the customer, and in the words they are choosing.

Salespeople are supposed to be professional problem-solvers and value-creators. When we view ourselves as problem-solvers and take a consultative approach believing that our prospects potentially have problems or issues for which we have solutions, then price should be the last thing on our minds. But time and time again I hear salespeople fretting about their pricing, and starting telephone and face to face calls convinced that the prospect is hugely concerned with price. Recently I’ve heard: “give us an opportunity to look at this and we’ll see if we can save you some money.” Another told a prospect “I’d like to quote this for you and see if I can do better.”

What in the world, people? Why would we ever talk like that? Let me be blunt:  If all you’re doing is selling price, then why do we need you? You bring NO VALUE as a price quoter. None. No value to your prospect and certainly, no value to your company. If all that matters is price, why don’t we just walk up and down the aisles of airplanes handing out price lists or put our pricing front and center on our websites? If it is indeed all about price, we’re all pretty much about out of a job.

[One disclaimer: I have personally been involved in a sales process where the way we quoted projects, asking killer questions, providing options and alternatives for efficiencies and greater impact, was a significant differentiator. But that’s very different than what I am talking about in this rant.]

Two very different sets of words that produce dramatically different outcomes:

I love when a salesperson asks great probing questions. I’ve believed for a long time that we can accomplish a whole lot more selling by asking great questions that demonstrate our expertise than we can with a slick presentation. Something magical and wonderful happens in the prospect’s mind when we ask insightful and penetrating questions. They see us as someone who can help them, and it positions us as that consultant and problem-solver I mentioned earlier.

Here are two phrases that two different salespeople who work for the same organization share with prospects very early in the conversation. They use these to set-up a line of questions that need to be asked in order to provide pricing. Both have good intentions, but man, are they different in what they communicate to the prospect (and what they say about how the salesperson views his role).

 

“I’d like to understand exactly what your situation is to see if I can help you.”  vs.

“Let me ask you a few questions so I can get you a price quote.”

Both phrases start out well, but they go in down very different paths after that. One communicates that I exist to solve problems, and I’d love to understand what you’re facing to see if we’re a fit to help. The other assumes the customer is only interested in the price and, worse, that you’re only interested in providing a price. Night and day.

So, I ask again: who’s making it about price – you or the customer?

Listen, I get it. There are plenty of organizations working to cut costs. And there are almost as many procurement (one of the worst words on the planet) people trying to prove their worth by making us cut prices! And we’ve all got lame competitors whose only weapon to beat us is price. Everyone understands. It’s tough out there. Great. Having said all that, as professional salespeople, we must make the supreme effort to examine ourselves and our approach to make darn sure we’re not the ones turning it into a price conversation.