Numbers Make The Conversation More Interesting

by Dave Brock January 4, 2016
January 4, 2016

Numbers are the bane of many sales people’s existence. Everyone wants to talk about numbers, but it’s far more fun and easy to talk about our cool products, the flashy features, and all the bells and whistles.

Or in conversations with our managers, it’s easier to talk about all the stuff we are doing, or the stuff the customer isn’t doing, than to talk about the numbers.

But let’s face it, numbers make the conversation more interesting—the right numbers!

Numbers catch the attention of executives and decision makers, so if we aren’t comfortable talking about the numbers, we’re going to struggle with producing results. We may have lots of nice conversations, but we won’t drive the customer to commitment.

Our customers are interested in solving problems, producing results. We measure results in numbers achieved in a specified time period. It may be revenue uplift, expense reduction, improved capital utilization, increased productivity, better cashflow, improved customer retention/acquisition, improved market share, better time to profitability in a product launch, improved throughput, better quality, greater customer satisfaction, better gross margins, greater shareholder value, improved profitability.

We use numbers to assess risk, to forecast outcomes, to project what we might achieve, or to set targets/goals.

Numbers are what make the conversation real, personalized, and specific to the organization and people we are speaking with.

Decisions are made based on numbers—unfortunately, too often the only number we equip our customers with is the price. So they have to figure out all the most important numbers.

Numbers are the great “fix” for the dreaded 57-70% of the buying process the customers are claimed undertake without sales. They can learn a lot about products, solutions, issues. They can even learn about someone else’s numbers. But they can’t learn about their numbers. We make the conversation interesting by helping the customer understand their numbers–both where they are currently, and what they might achieve. They can’t get this from the web, they can’t get this from content, they can only get this when we engage them in conversations about their business.

We tend to focus on our product capabilities, the features and functions, how our offering compares to others. But those primarily address the What and How issues. We need numbers to address the Why issues — fundamentally, why change? (Because our current numbers are unsatisfactory and the future numbers get us to where we need/want to be.).

We tend to push the numbers discussion until late in the sales cycle. Part of this is because we confuse the numbers discussion with the price discussion. Part is that we won’t know the specific numbers–the results and outcomes the customer expects to achieve until the end of the process.

But what would happen if we started having discussions about the numbers in our first or initial discussions with the customer? What if we did enough homework to suggest, “We think you may be missing these opportunities which have this impact on your results?” “We think you can improve the utilization of your manufacturing plants, or the productivity of your sales people, which may produce these results?”

What we’ve done is we’ve moved the “interesting conversations” to the start of the buying/selling process. We may even provoke a customer that hadn’t intended to change, to realize they must change.

Yeah, I know many of you are saying, “But we don’t know enough about them, or what if we are wrong?”

I don’t buy those excuses. There’s too much data available about our customers and their industries. A few of the right questions can elicit enough data to start interesting conversations. There are great tools that help you conduct the conversation.

But the most interesting thing, is you don’t have to be right! You do have to be in the ballpark. If you don’t know the problems you solve or your customers well enough to be in the ball park, then you don’t deserve to be in the meeting.

But if you have that estimate, if you can start the conversation with, “We think there is an opportunity….” it provokes the customer to respond, “How did you arrive at those numbers?” Now you are in an interesting conversation.

It’s a conversation about your assumptions. The assumptions may be off and the customer can help correct those assumptions. Or the customer might says, what about this. Soon the interesting discussion has become a discussion about potential outcomes they might achieve in working with you.

Isn’t that the interesting conversation you want to have with your customers?

Numbers make the conversations more interesting with our managers–but I’ll save that for another post.

My thanks to Jim Berryhill, CEO of Decisionlink, and Martin Schmalenbach for provoking this post.

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