By Bob Davis
A long-term client gave me access to their most important customer as part of my research for an International Sales Meeting I was helping to design. My mission was to interview my client’s customer and ask, “Why do you like working with them?”
By way of background, my client was creating sub-assemblies that would be part of a telecom device built by their customer, Lucent. My client had a long productive relationship with Lucent and was a well-respected vendor.
I contacted the purchasing department and asked the purchasing agent, “Why do you like working with these people?” He responded, “They challenge our thinking!” My first thought was – this sounds downright rude of them! I controlled my self talk and proceeded to say, “Tell me more about that.” Here is what the purchasing agent said:
You see we get specs for a sub-assembly build from engineering and give that to several vendors requesting a price for them to build it. All the vendors respond in a reasonable time frame and provide us with a price. Perhaps I should not have said ‘All the vendors’ because your client does something very different. They start with “Let me explore your request in this meeting to be sure I understand what you are trying to accomplish. This will assure I come back to you with a response that assures you of having the best and most cost effective sub-assembly.” Then they start asking lots of questions like:
- Tell me what you want your device to do?
- Why has it been designed this way?
- May I speak with the design engineers?
What has impressed us is that the digging they do allows them to come back with more than a price—they come back with ideas like:
- ‘If we change this in the design, it will save steps and cost in manufacturing’
- ‘Reconfiguring the operator controls will save steps and provide benefits for end users’
- ‘Here are some ideas that will significantly reduce heat build-up and extend your device life’
I saw clearly why my client was a preferred vendor for Lucent. Rather than responding with a price quote for what the customer said they wanted, my client went into detective mode. This gave my client information that helped them routinely differentiate their response and provide unexpected value for the customer.
The Sales Detective lesson:
When a customer says, “Here is what I want, what will it cost?”, go into Detective mode, not “fill-the-spec-provide-a-price” mode.