There are times when you simply cannot win the customer or order. No different than wooing every girl, boy, or whatever. It’s a fact of life. There may be perceived and unspoken reasons behind a customer buying decision.
Examples of Perceived or Unspoken Buying Decisions
1. Bias – Some believe that goods made in certain countries are superior or flawed, e.g. “Typical German Engineering”, “Made in China”. Bias can also be some form of discrimination - you may remind the buyer of her ex-spouse (and she hates her ex-spouse).
2. Customer Affiliation – A customer may have some relationship with the seller, e.g. Alumnus of same university, the other company has "Paisanos” (fellow countrymen). I once dealt with what appeared to be a stubborn prospect and offered every point which could not be countered. Exasperated, I asked him why he would not consider us. He finally told me that he was an investor and consultant to a small competitor.
3. A Bad Taste From the Past – They were burnt in the past by your company directly or by an affiliate.
4.“The Invisible Hand” – There may be external decision makers pulling the strings or applying pressure, e.g. A customer whom they supply to may recommend another brand or the buyer's own upper management may have some undue influence, e.g. their company president is on the board of the company you are competing against (true story).
5. The “Underdog” Effect – Discussed in an earlier article, the buyer identifies with a scrappy competitor and wants to help them survive or succeed.
6. Personality Clash – They don’t like or trust the Sales person, Service person, etc. for some reason. Sometimes, bringing in your "Top Gun", an upper manager, can backfire if they are too aggressive and antagonize the customer. Some companies employ "diagnostic selling" using questions to understand the customer problem to the point of a "Spanish Inquisition" which puts the customer on the defensive.
So know that no matter how great a product or service you offer and how many valid customer value propositions that you can show...there are times when an unspoken or perceived factor may influence the buying decision. Try to discover them so that you can take corrective actions - a customer who likes and trusts you may be more open to share these issues.
There's an old joke about set minds:
A man goes to a Psychologist and says, "Doc, I got a real problem. I can't stop thinking about Whoopee." The Psychologist says, "Well, let's see what we can find out", and pulls out his ink blots. "What is this a picture of?" he asks. The man turns the picture upside down, then turns it around and states, "That's a man and a woman on a bed making whoopee." The Psychologist says, "very interesting," and shows the next picture. "And what is this a picture of?" The man looks and turns it in different directions and says, "That's a man and a woman on a bed making whoopee." The Psychologists tries again with the third ink blot, and asks the same question, "What is this a picture of?" The patient again turns it in all directions and replies, "That's a man and a woman on a bed making Whoopee." The Psychologist states, "Well, yes, you do seem to be obsessed with Whoopee." "Me!?" demands the patient. "You're the one who keeps showing me the dirty pictures!"
Watching Apple, dominant in the smartphone and tablet markets, get taken on by Android, Samsung, Amazon, etc. offers a glimpse into consumer mentality and psychology.
I’ve had the good fortune of working with companies that dominate their markets. My current company, Instron, is the world’s largest materials testing systems manufacturer. The name brand is so strong and ubiquitous that scientists and engineers refer to any test system as an “Instron” just as “Kleenex” became synonymous with tissue. (All this was hard earned with years of innovation, dedicated employees, and a customer satisfaction rating on par with Lexus.)
“No One Ever Got Fired for Buying IBM”
Being dominant has its privileges. Prospects know to call you when they are shopping for your type of products. You command a certain amount of industry respect and it is worth some points of trust when it comes to purchase decisions. There used to be a saying “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” meaning that no one gets fired for making the safe pick and choosing an industry leader. Other companies might have better products or offer lower prices, but they often come with greater risks. In the 1990's, the phrase became: “No one ever got fired for buying Microsoft.” The same mentality happens for other products: “Get an iPhone/iPad...you can’t go wrong”.
The “Cool Factor”
However, the market can fickle. “Name dropping” is a common sales and marketing tactic where you establish credentials by naming some of your best known customers or clients. It’s also a way to impress your prospects and show that, they too, can be in the same club as existing users. It doesn't always work. First, it’s a customer privacy issue – some users are reluctant to appear in promotional materials. In another case, some prospects are “renegades” – they just don’t want to use the same products as others, including their own colleagues. You can make an argument that some people shy away from Apple or Microsoft so that they can be seen as different. I personally got an Android phone because almost every person whom I know had an iPhone – how uncool would it to be part of the herd? Samsung came out with a brilliant ad in 2012 showing a young man waiting in line (presumably at an Apple store) with a bunch of hipsters. It turns out that he is saving a spot in the line for his parents, alluding that the iPhone 5 is meant for the older generation, and uses a Samsung Galaxy S3. So market dominance has to be carefully balanced with the danger that you are suddenly “uncool”. Facebook is no longer “cool” once kids found their parents and grandparents trying to friend them (I'm still waiting for my nephew to accept my invitation from 3 years ago).
Badmouthing the Competition
A less dominating competitor also has more of an opportunity to attack the market leader directly. Pepsi used to always attack Coke by name. It’s difficult for the market leader to reply in kind since they have to acknowledge the competitor and it looks bad when you’re number one (you have more to lose with such a tactic). Apple was able to take shots at Microsoft in the past in the PC arena (particularly with a respected cult figure like Steve Jobs and when they were a small player). Their famous “1984” Orwellian ad played on the Apple Mac liberating worker drones from a colorless world dominated by “Big Blue” (IBM). Yet such a tactic backfired when they became the "leader" in Smartphones - their recent attack on Samsung prior to the Galaxy S4 launch was deemed “defensive, classless, and even desperate” by critics.
The “Underdog” Effect
Generally, you don’t raise yourself up by talking someone down but smaller competitors seem to have some leeway here. The leeway may be attributed to the “underdog effect". People like and root for underdogs, the one who seems to be at a disadvantage and has to struggle. There’s a “feel good” to helping them especially when the buyer identifies with the "underdog". Some buyers will buy simply to give a small, scrappy competitor a chance. However, even big companies take advantage of this effect. Nantucket Nectars drink ads feature the founders – who never mention that they sold out to The Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.
Innovation and Trust
As Mel Brooks said in “History of the World, Part 1”: “It’s good to be the King!” Innovation keeps you and your product “cool” but be aware that being number one can be a two edge sword. You must continuously build trust with your customers and behave differently than your competitors to remain number one. If you’re not number one, look for a niche where you can be number one.
What is a key tool that the FBI uses for catching criminals? They profile them. You may have seen this on TV shows such as Criminal Minds with a a team of profilers from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). They analyze the minds of offenders to understand their motivation, their "M.O." (Method of Operation) and anticipate their next steps. As a marketing or product manager, you should be doing the same with your customers or target users.
You must know your customer before you can sell to them. Customers use products in different ways, have different problems to solve, and work in different environments. You need to have a 360 degree view of the user, putting yourself in his or her shoes, to understand their mindset, unique problems, and operating process. We call this the “User Experience” (UX). User experience is real insight from empathy and data; it is a critical way to differentiate from competitors. “User Experience” helps you create the “Product Experience” – how to differentiate your product to win and delight the user.
Key questions to understanding the user include:
1. What is The User Perspective?
2. What are the Personas & User Scenarios?
3. What’s the real need/opportunity?
4. How do/might they actually behave?
5. What motivates them?
6. What’s their environment?
Basically,, you are trying to learn the "Who, What, Where, When, and How" someone uses a product.
Your research will help you create User-centric models. User-centric models represent your users, the things they do related to your products, the things they need to accomplish with your products, and their relationship with your products.
User-centric models help your product teams:
1. Focus on the user at all times (not on the product)
2. Provide a common understanding of who the user is and what is important to them
3. Illuminate how your product will interact with the user
4. Minimize subjective debates about what features are important to users
If you have an (or more than one) easy-to-understand model that represents your user, based on research, you will be more efficient and effective in making design decisions. Two user-centric models are: Personas and Experience Maps.
Personas represent your end users. Each persona has tasks, behaviors, and motivations that your users perform that help your team make the best possible design decisions. They put your design team in the shoes of real people using their products. For example, one persona for a camera product may be a “Fighter Pilot” – A professional who knows photography and likes to play around with lens, lighting, wants total flexibility in configuration, likes connecting to other software for editing, output. A different user persona would be the “PHD” (Push Here, Dummy) – A weekend user who just wants to take family photos, does not want to fool around with settings, wants things to be as automatic as possible.
Process / Experience Maps
Process or Experience maps show how users interact with your products – you see the phases in their workflow, interactions with other people or processes (who the product “touches”), the pain points, bottlenecks, opportunities, etc. Process maps provide a high level, strategic look at how your products fit into the user’s lives and help you understand the broader context where your product is situated. No two maps typically follow the same format or layout, but they often contain a few key components: phases in the journey, touch points, pain points, and opportunities.
How to Create User Personas and Process / Experience Maps
Observing users in their environment is one of the best methods for learning the various User Personas and creating their unique Process / Experience Maps. Some called these “VOC” (Voice of the Customer), OE (Opportunity Evaluation), etc. Create a list of questions for the various users. Ask open ended and closed probing questions, e.g. If there was one thing that we could eliminate in this process, what would it be? What keeps you up at night? Who is the actual end user…an internal or external customer? Many recommend having 3 people for such visits: an interviewer, a “wing man” to observe and jump in when the interviewer gets lost or misses an important follow-up, and a scribe who usually frantically writes down everything he/she hears. (There’s a whole procedure for “Voice of the Customer” which we will discuss in the future.) Create the user experience map with your users to see if they agree with the interaction and flow.
Training customers in their environment is an other excellent method - you'll see the daily interactions, disruptions, and what they actually do versus what they say they do (not necessary the same). Involve your Sales and Service staff to help develop and refine your models.
Segmentation - Different Strokes for Different Folks
Don’t forget to apply segmentation in each of these exercises. Segmentation may be based on user attributes (gender, income, age group, market segments, regions, etc.). 18 year olds don’t necessary behave the same as 30 year olds so you want to create user personas and process/experience maps for these distinct groups. You may further “slice and dice” the segments further, e.g. 18 year old girls vs. boys, to get better understanding of the target user.
Product teams often get narrowly focused on a particular product, or feature set within a product, and lose sight of the complete user experience. User personas and process / experience maps help teams keep their eye on the big picture and generate new, innovative ideas to help make the experience better.
A very entertaining introduction and summary of UX Design is embedded below:
"Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" is a song by Daft Punk (remixed by others, including Kanye West). Your customers sing a similar tune when making a buying decision.
A customer decision ultimately boils down to three basic categories: "Better", "Faster", "Cheaper"…and a possible fourth one in some industries and countries: "Safer”.
1. Better: Does the product or service make my process, output, organization, or my life better than prior to having it? Do I use less people so that they can do better things? Do we have less errors? Does the output look better; is it more accurate? Does my quality improve?
2. Faster: Does the product or services help complete tasks or get my product out the door faster? Save time?
3. Cheaper: Am I saving money by using this product or service? Is the return on investment positive and better than other solutions?
4. Safer: Does it offer me or my staff more protection from injury, hazards? (More protection means less liability.)
Don’t talk about features with prospects. No one cares about the one thousand features in your products unless they can relate to them.
Talk about solutions, benefits and how those benefits make things “Better”, “Faster”, “Cheaper”, and “Safer”.
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
Happy to Share!
Want to use my content & images on your website?
I am happy to share but I’d appreciate a credit and a link back to this site. Thanks!