What do you really know about a potential buyer? Does your qualification process only consider the types of projects and revenue? What happens if you fail to pick up on the customer’s buying style?
Even a project that seems a perfect fit may be managed by a buyer whose priorities don’t match what you offer. If your product or service is tooled for high levels of service and customized solutions, then a steady stream of price shoppers will suck your resources up and drive your margins down.
Likewise, if your value is derived from depth of resources and simplified options, you won’t line up well with buyers that want to control the process and customize the solutions.
The more time you waste on mis-matched opportunities, the lower your margins.
It gets worse. On the occasions that you do wrangle a well-suited customer to the negotiating table, will your fear of losing the order drive your price down unnecessarily?
There’s a better way to qualify opportunities. Pay attention to the clues and you will derive the customer’s buying style and assess how it will apply to this particular project.
There are three primary buying styles, but most customers have a secondary style that influences every decision they make. Recognizing these traits gives you an extraordinary advantage as you attempt to position your offering, overcome customer objections, and negotiate the final deal.
The three styles are Confidence, Value, and Control.
Confidence customers need you to be the expert. They want to rely on a trustworthy and knowledgable supplier, so it is critical that you establish rapport first. Once you are a trusted authority you can explore options, ideas, and suggestions to help the customer get the experience and outcomes they desire.
Confidence customers are the most coveted because they want long term relationships and generally are less focused on pricing. Once they latch on to a supplier, they tend to hang around – at least until their priorities change.
Value customers weigh features, timing, and cost, but they also respond well to pricing options and specials. They tend to shop more and change suppliers more easily.
In general, Value customers are looking for a good deal, but not necessarily the best price.
The key to working with a value buyer is to focus on their secondary buying style. Also, never treat them as price-shoppers. Even when they say that price is the most important thing – there is almost always something else that matters more. Value-Confidence is a coveted combination. By focusing on your suitability for their needs, you minimize their focus on price.
Extreme value buyers can be difficult to deal with because any variation in value will affect their decision (we call these price shoppers). They are also rather rare in that most rational folks have secondary needs to consider.
Control customers consider themselves the expert. They are looking for a knowledgable partner, but not someone that thinks they know more than the buyer. It is therefore important to establish credibility with Control customers, with the goal of becoming an active participant in the transaction as opposed to an order-taker.
Not all control buyers will let you do this. They seek an expert salesperson, not someone that relies on experts for assistance.
Control buyers also tend to dictate the terms of the deal, alter your specifications to better meet their needs, and keep their decision criteria secret. You often don’t know which way a control buyer will go until the decision deadline.
To work with a Control Buyer, place them in front of someone that is very well-versed in what you do, but also willing to follow processes consistently. Your goal is to earn the buyer’s trust and confidence.
In general buyers have a strong primary trait that tends to remain consistent throughout your relationship with that person, plus a secondary trait that will drive their decision-making process.
Secondary traits may change from deal to deal.
For instance, a Confidence-Value buyer will first seek to satisfy their need for trust and credibility, but ultimately make the final decision on value. Next time the final decision might be on a confidence or control issue.
Some combinations may not be ideal for you. For instance, a Control-Value buyer wants to be the expert and set the terms of the deal. In other words, they view business relationships as transactions and are the most likely to switch suppliers for minor issues.
Control-Confidence buyers are often high maintenance. They place a lot of demands on you throughout the process (control) but then need you to reassure them that you know what you are doing (confidence).
Then there is the least loyal customer: the dreaded Value-Control buyer. Imagine an extremely detached purchasing agent that must work within strict criteria in an automated process.
Closing the Deal
When presenting your product or service, framing a proposal, or dealing with objections, understanding your buyer’s type is essential to achieving the desired outcome. Meeting the buyer’s primary need may only get you to the table. Closing the deal often requires that you shift gears and focus on their secondary style.
In the final negotiation, affirm that the primary needs have been met. For a Confidence Buyer, you simply ask, “Are we the right supplier for you?”
You ask a Value Buyer, “If we can meet your budget needs, are we a good fit?”
A Control Buyer always wants to be in charge, so we ask, “Before we continue, what do we need to do differently?”
Once you have permission to move forward, your focus shifts to their secondary trait wherein you demonstrate a tactical solution that meets that need.
For example, a Value-Control buyer wants a good deal, but have influence in the process. For this sort of customer, once I have established that we can meet their Value criteria I would switch and focus on their control needs. “You mentioned that you would like Josh as a Project Manager. I agree that he would be excellent. If we can get this project contracted this week, then we can adjust his schedule to meet your needs.”
The goal in working long term with any buying style is to develop a Confidence relationship. Control and Value buyers can become Confidence buyers if you consistently meet their criteria, which allows them to develop trust in you and your process. Eventually, control and value will become secondary traits that manifest depending on the project.
Finally, trust the buyer to behave as their style suggests. A Confidence-Control buyer may wander off into value issues, but will ultimately choose the most trusted source. Likewise, a Control-Value buyer that needs your rare expertise will lean heavily their control side to make their decision. Trying to appeal to their confidence probably won’t turn their decision in your favor.
Having said that, an irrational buyer will not change their style even in the face of rational choices. These are buyers that you can confidently leave behind.
Life’s too short to deal with people that can never be pleased.