Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What Did You Sell That For?

In the mid 80's, as a young manager in IBM, I was meeting with IBM's then Vice Chairman, Paul Rizzo. The conversation is as important now, as it was then. Paul had just returned from a trip visiting customers, and in our small group was expressing a high degree of frustration and some anger.

He recounted driving to the customer with the sales person. The sales person was briefing Paul on the account and proudly stated he had just sold a system to this customer. Paul responded with the question, "What did you sell it for?" The sales person quickly responded, "Oh, about $10 million."

Paul expressed his frustration to us, stating the sales person's response, while typical, was devastating to him. Paul wanted to know "What did you sell the system for?" That is, How is the customer going to use it? What value will they get from it? How will it help them serve their customers? How will it help them grow their business? The sale was a transaction to this sales person, the individual had no idea what the customer was doing, just that the customer had paid IBM $10 million to do it.

Unfortunately, over 20 years later, times haven't changed---particularly in many high technology sales. Too often, I speak with sales people, managers, and executives about what they sell. I ask the question, "What Are You Selling It For?" Too often, the response has nothing to do with satisfying a customer need or creating value for them. It is about beating a competitor, often at the lowest price, and winning a transaction.

This isn't just the problem of sales, to many of our businesses are focused on the product. Many lose focus on what the product/service does for the customer, the value it creates for them.

As business leaders and professionals, as sales professionals, as people seeking to server our customers, growing our mutual businesses, the question Paul Rizzo posed over 20 years ago, is what we must ask ourselves every day:

"What did you sell that for?"

If we can't come up with the answer, we will fail to succeed.

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