The Customer is not always right

by Daniel Batten on November 20, 2012

“The customer is always right” produced a generation of sales supplicants. It was a well intentioned statement, aimed at helping people (predominantly engineers) to learn better 2-way communication skills. But it has a dark subtext: “whoever is paying you money must not be challenged.”

Unfortunately for the vendor, there is no way to add genuine value to a customer and differentiate yourself from your competition without challenging them.

The other consequence was that it spawned a generation of sales techniques that were only partially effective. Sales became about working out what the customer wanted and giving it to them. Afterall, if the customer was always right – then the vendor’s input can be no more than finding out what they want and supplying it. This worked for a while – kind of. But since 2008, vendors that continue to use this approach are getting hammered. They are losing more deals than ever, and getting margins eroded to borderline-profitable when they do win. Why? Because they are transparently adding no value in the eyes of their increasingly cost-vigilant prospects and customers.

More and more, customers are asking vendors today not to assume they know what they want, and not to assume they as the customer are right, or complete in their thinking. If you read between the lines of every RFP, every tender, and every prospect engagement meeting, it will invite the vendor’s different perspective. In other words they are saying “challenge us – because that’s what we value most highly today”.

Unfortunately for the customer, most vendors have only been trained in consultative selling, and so vendors only know how to diagnose and meet the customer need – not the new and different skill of helping customers to get present to needs they didn’t know they had.

The customer is not always right. They are sometimes right, usually partially right, sometimes downright wrong, and almost always in need of your confidently and skilfully articulated  “out-of-their-box” perspective.

Average sales people accept the articulated customer need as gospel and set about meeting it. Exceptional sales people challenge thinking and meet the unarticulated need.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick November 20, 2012 at 5:48 pm

What changed in 2008?

Nina November 20, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Thank you, I liked this!

Daniel Batten November 21, 2012 at 10:10 am

Global Financial Crisis

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