Week 47 – Strategy – Chapter 12

Great things are often achieved by exceptional people. Mistakes, however, are seldom exceptional. This also applies to the model of business fields I have introduced. Practice reveals typically made mistakes. I want to shed light on them and tell you how they can best be avoided.

Imagine you want to a buy a new toaster. Your old one has given up the ghost after nine years. But you don’t want to make this decision unprepared. So you grab a package of sliced bread, walk into a kitchen appliance store and say, “I’d like to buy a toaster, but I will need to test it first!”

A willing salesperson shows you several toaster models and actually lets you try them out. The salesperson does his job to perfection and even throws in a little butter and jam to make your test as realistic as possible. Alright, I might be exaggerating, but you get the idea.

After all the appliances have been tested, the salesperson gives you his card and accompanies you to the door with a smile. And what do you do? You drive to the nearest Best Buy store and buy the toaster of your choice. You might even be annoyed that it costs just as much as in the specialized appliance store you were just in.

Granted, this example might be a little extreme, but not really. Why was the salesperson not able to close the deal, and what should he have done differently? To answer these questions, I want to return to the business field model.

There are two decisive questions. The first one is: How much know-how does the customer possess? What was his learning curve from the start to the end of the sales process? The answer is simple: At the outset the customer hardly possessed any know-how about toasters; at the end, however, he knew considerably more.

The second questions is: How much need for closeness did the customer display, and how high or low was his willingness to switch suppliers? Here, too, the answer is not hard to find. There was little need for a close relationship combined with a high willingness to switch suppliers. That means that in the model he was in the bottom right-hand side the moment he entered the appliance store. The right strategy would therefore have been: “Force it through!”

But what did the salesperson do in my example? He opted for the “Best Solution” strategy instead. The customer was wiser by the end of the process, but left the store without having come to a purchasing decision, since a decision can only be made if the customer and the supplier are in the same category of the model.

By extensively advising the customer, the salesperson imparted knowledge to him, and as a result, the customer went from thinking “I don’t know what to choose” to “Now I know what I want and am able to compare suppliers.” This problem arises time and time again: The salesperson concedes too much know-how in the initial stages of the sales process and thereby delays the closing of the deal.

The right strategy in this example would have been to propose an acceptable solution to the customer. The salesperson should have assumed that if the customer did not decide right now, he would never come back. For this reason, it is better to lure the customer with a proposal that offers a specific advantage.

As a salesperson you could say, for instance, “Should you find a better offer within a week, we will match that price.” The risk for the salesperson is limited, because in B2C sales, a customer hardly ever carries on looking for offers if he’s already made up his mind.

Keep the following two things in mind going forward:

  • Do not unnecessarily concede knowledge to the customer.
  • Aim for a decision as quickly as possible.

This also means: Do not give the customer detailed, tabulated offers with individual prices. Do not offer precise construction plans that could serve as a call for tender. Keep information on the “how it’s done” to a minimum. Instead, bolster your customer’s confidence that he has found the right supplier. You will minimize the risk factors by limiting the customer’s possibilities of withdrawal and giving economically sound reasons why a swift decision is beneficial to the customer.


Now I’d like to address another typical strategic mistake.

One of the dangers in the business world is the illusion of closeness. When salespeople think that they have a close relationship with a professional buyer, this is usually an illusion. Why? Because it is a mistake to assume a good relationship when the buyer issues his “last call” asking you to give him your last and lowest price. In fact, the buyer is situated at the bottom of the business field model. He is only feigning closeness in order to get the best price. So don’t be fooled!