Wednesday, March 26, 2008

idea: don't sell to the wrong buyers

In an editorial for Inside Healthcare Computing, Nicholas Birdcage writes, "In a Capitalist Society, Somebody Will Always Sell a Fat Man a Speedo or an Unprepared Hospital a Clinical System."

I'll wait a second for that visual to sink in before continuing.


In a similar but thankfully Speedo-free conversation last week, Jim Foxworthy and I got to talking about the old sales chestnut "We're looking for people who need holes, not shovels". In a moment of inspiration, I added, "And I'm really looking for people who want to plant trees, not bury bodies."

All of these add up to an idea that shouldn't surprise you, but is worth thinking about. Jim summed it up really well in a follow-up email:

First, we find buyers who want holes in the ground, not shovels. Second, we learn if they want that hole to bury a dead body or to plant a tree. We only allow people to buy from us who a) have the problem and b) exhibit the values systems that we want aligned with our brand. It is partnerships we seek, after all, not customers.

How many of you have been burned by a customer who shouldn't have bought your product but did? When a company spends perfectly good money on a vendor solution it doesn't need or can't possibly use successfully, the vendor loses more than the buyer. Why?

  • Because buyers have this strange habit of talking to each other - and bad cross-talk is damaging to you at a multitude of levels.
  • Because supporting an unhappy customer who you can't make happy is a useless exercise.
  • Because wrong buyers exert the wrong sort of pressure on product development.
  • Because sales learns that they can sell to anyone with impunity and someone else will pick up the pieces.

Feel free to suggest your own "becauses" if you'd like. It's fun to share.

One of the vendors in the market I play in these days is particularly clever - you can't just go to them and say "here is some cash, sell us your stuff." No, this vendor has to choose you before it will sell to you - before they let you sign, this vendor determines up front if you're ready, committed, and in doing so gets agreement that the outcome of their partnership with you (their word) will be good for both parties.

What Jim adds to the argument is an assessment of the values of the buyer by the seller - are you going to be proud to name this company as one of your customers? Will they make you a better creator/provider of solutions through your relationship, or will they be a constant drain on your resources, creativity and patience? Will having them as a customer send a message to prospects that you don't want to send?

The Speedo Argument is a cautionary tale to all of us. Especially those of us who, frankly, shouldn't be wearing them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article.

This is especially true in B2B selling.Segmentation was defined so that a buyer can also focus on the customers and find out valuable customers.

I also think that this problem becomes a much bigger problem when sales matrix is only decided in terms of volume of sales. Sales bonuses should be defined with multiple parameters such as sales volume, cost of support etc. Then this problem can be solved efficiently.