The WHO in the Question

Quick Summary: The customer is really a person, not a company.


Buying decisions are made by individuals, not market segments or companies.  Those individuals may be focused more on not losing than winning, which means that avoiding making a mistake to them is more important than reaching out for victory.  Understanding who the WHO is and addressing their concerns is critical to sales success.

The WHO in the question “Who is the Customer, and what is their Single Most Compelling Reason to Buy Now from You?” is the first issue that must be understood.  The “who” is not a market segment and not even a specific company.  Instead, it is an individual that makes the purchase recommendation.  They may have the actual authorization ability, but in many cases, they do not.  This is the person who is willing to “step up” and make a decision usually based on the recommendation of others.  Seldom do they act alone.  They have probably gained consensus from others but are the lead person in the evaluation process.  Quite often they are a “big picture” person who is responsible for weighing alternatives and acting on priorities with the specific purchasing decision being one of a number of other alternatives that could be pursued.

In today’s pressure-packed business climate, most individuals sense a loss of job security.  Layoffs and re-organizations are common place.  Middle and senior managers, who are the most likely individuals with the “Who” responsibility of making purchasing decisions, probably feel the lack of security more than others.  At the risk of appearing to be overly critical, most of these people “like” what they have and where they are and don’t want to lose it.  Many are more concerned with avoiding failure than reaching for a victory.  Consequentially, they may be reluctant to make a decision that may not, in hindsight, be viewed as being correct.  The trap is waiting. Not making a decision is really making a decision by itself.

The keys to winning over the WHO person are to de-risk the situation, help build a consensus with others so they do not feel alone, and believe that others will support their decision.  Note that the WHO refers to a single person.  In fact, the purchase decision can be made up of a committee.  The committee is not an entity but a collection of individuals, each of which is part of the WHO and needs to be addressed independently.

In the sales process it is natural for a sales rep to focus on all of the features and benefits of the product or service.  Rarely will they openly discuss what could go wrong.  The prospect, on the other hand, will focus on the potential downsides and what could go wrong.  Left on their own, the negative picture that they may paint in their minds may be far worse than can actually occur or may be easily resolved.  Their presumed risk may outweigh the projected reward.  Addressing the potential risks needs to be part of the sales process to avoid prospects reaching an inappropriate conclusion.

An axiom that I have developed over the years is “In a company there are far more people empowered to say no than are empowered to say yes.  Further, those individuals that can say yes always seem to be in meetings or have other higher priorities.”   An extension of this axiom is “Operations people, those individuals tasked with implementing programs, are always empowered to say no but rarely are willing or empowered to say yes.”  These statements, along with the discussion in the article in this collection “Be Like Sand,” emphasize the need to build consensus throughout an organization, so that the WHO person believes that they are not alone in the decision process.  They will naturally want to receive credit for a good decision but are more likely to be highly motivated to avoid being singled out for making a bad decision.  Focus your efforts on making the WHO believe they will be successful.


Article Number : 5.010302   

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