Customers generally seriously only consider a handful of products before deciding which one to buy. This group of products is called the Consideration Set.
Niraj Dawar in strategy+business provides some questions for managing your position in the Consideration Set. We took some of Dawar’s ideas and added a few of our own.
1. How do you make sure your product is among those considered?
Customers simplify the large set of available alternatives to the much smaller Consideration Set by applying rules of thumb that use certain decision criteria for helping them determine whether someone joins the Consideration Set. Salespeople can influence what characteristics are among the selected criteria.
2. How do you ensure there are as few competing products as possible in the Consideration Set?
Work with customers to ensure that the number of companies that meet the cutoffs is as small as possible. One technique to do this is to raise the bar on the decision criteria that are high priority for the customer and play to your competitive advantages – leaving some competitors behind.
3. How do you make sure your product is the one chosen for purchase from among those?
Once the customer is considering your product, the buying process changes. Customers use their decision criteria not as cutoffs, but as benchmarks for making trade-offs. At this stage, they no longer are trying to eliminate products that don’t fit their needs – rather they’re seeking the best fit among just a few products that made the initial cut.
This is when customers start evaluating multiple criteria simultaneously, trading off price for reliability, features for speed, and so on. Trade-offs result in customers choosing a product that is not the one that dominates on all criteria, for seldom is there such a case, but rather one that offers the best overall value.
To accomplish this, sales reps must: Make sure they understand which criteria are important to customers and how they value each so they understand the “exchange rate” customers will use when analyzing their trade-offs.
Summary. Sales reps cannot win a sale if they don’t understand the buying process, don’t make the initial cut-off and once there – don’t understand the trade-offs customers will make and the rationale for those trade-offs.
To make that happen you must have conversations with the customer to determining how you fit against the customer’s decision criteria. It is important to remember that fit is a two-way street. You must determine in an objective way the degree of fit between the customer’s decision criteria and your capabilities. In addition, you must obtain the customer’s perception of that fit. It is often the case that the two assessments are not in alignment and a part of your strategy is what to do about the misalignment.
For example, there are times where it is legitimate to help a customer change their point of view. A misperception about one of your capabilities is one example. A second example is when a customer deems a particular decision criterion to be extremely important and it is your experience that priority is misplaced. This, of course, is a road to be walked with care. If the customer would end up making a better decision if they changed their assessment, then that brings value to the customer and to you, and that’s legitimate. Obviously, it is not legitimate if the viewpoint shift is strictly in your self-interest.
The second step is obtaining the customer’s perception of how the competition fits with their decision criteria. With all that information at hand you can make a good assessment of your competitive position as viewed by the customer.
This assessment provides the information you need to determine whether to commit additional resources to pursuing the business or whether this is indeed “bad business” and you should move on to other accounts.
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