Confused by a Strategic Customer?

Don Linder

While helping a client with a strategic customer plan/account review session, one of the client’s sales teams was very confused about their current status with the customer and didn’t know what to do next.

It’s a big challenge to travel through the often political “maze” that best depicts selling to larger customer organizations. The sales team has to efficiently navigate through the “maze” by determining an optimum path from initial contact to final contract award.

The challenges that are particularly difficult for most sales teams to overcome are:

1) Identifying and understanding all the main buying influences

Most of us know the concept of the three buying influences (economic, user, and technical) that are present in every complex sale. Many of us don’t, however, ensure that we have convinced the economic and user buyers of the distinctive value that our solution provides to their organization.

Instead, we spend our time in comfortable discussions about the features of our product with the technical buyer. We can win a complex sale by winning the economic and user buyers and having a neutral technical buyer but we won’t win the sale by winning the technical buyer and having either the economic or user buyer voting for a different solution.

2) Not understanding each contact’s issues

Few sales teams can accurately list the top three buying criteria for each of the three buyers. Extremely few sales teams can go to the next critical level understanding: the emphasis each buyer places on each criteria.

For example, if product performance is a buying criteria for the user buying influence, you must know what the minimum performance standard is for that person. In addition, you must know if she would vote for buying a product with a higher performance level or if she feels that minimum performance level is completely adequate and higher performance is meaningless.

3) Their customer contacts aren’t communicating with them

This is a really clear sign that either the potential sale is being significantly delayed or that the customer is planning to buy from your competitor. Detecting this problem well before the planned contract award time is extremely valuable.

Remember – Bad news early is Good news!Now is the time for a dramatic change in strategy. Should you:

  1. Have the customer change their buying criteria?
  2. Introduce new customer contacts into the decision process?
  3. Convince the customer to delay the contract award date until you’re better able to compete?
  4. Review with the customer the business case/ROI that they’ve created?

4) The customer doesn’t have any sense of urgency.

One of the tasks of the sales team in the complex sale is to gain a clear understanding of the extent and severity of the problem that the customer is trying to solve. Many customers don’t do a complete analysis of the consequential problems that originate from the primary problem. As a result, the customer has a lack of urgency to solve the primary problem, which causes continual delays.

Those sales teams that help their customers with the problem analysis will uncover additional problem areas that they are uniquely qualified to solve. They will then be positioned to charge premium prices for a superior value solution.


About the author

Don Linder, the founder of Major Client Selling, uses structured tools and creative strategies to solve the complex puzzle of selling to big customers. He's the author of "The Seven Deadly Mistakes that Cause You to Lose Large Sales." You can reach Don at

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