In Their Shoes
Business & Leadership Behaviors Project Management Thoughts

In Their Shoes

Like most industries, the challenge for any organization is to craft their products and services to fill a need for a customer. Otherwise, none of us would ever sell anything, our businesses would fold and we’d have to move into our parent’s basements – or worse, our kid’s.

I think the real art in crafting a product or solution is not only ensuring that what you build fulfills a particular need, but that your customer agrees that it does – so they actually buy with you. Seems pretty straightforward, right? That isn’t always the reality. Let me give you an example.

We had a customer that was convinced that they needed a certain piece of hardware and that adding that hardware to their environment would fix all of their problems. They called us because they heard that we worked with said hardware, which we did (still do). When we started talking to the client and saw their operation, we determined that we could definitely help them, but the hardware they requested would not only not work, it would add to their issues.

This is where the challenge began. We couldn’t just come out and say “you’re wrong – this isn’t what you need”. People love it when you tell them they’re wrong – don’t they? We had to work with them to see the larger reality and then help them to understand their options.

Marrying the Problem & Solution

As a consumer, it’s frustrating when salespeople or consultants bombard me with facts about their product or service, but don’t seem to really understand my problem. I tend to walk away or keep looking. So as a consultant myself, I know that I need to not only understand the problem – but also ensure that the customer agrees with my view of that problem and can see how my product/service may be able to solve it. This is where the art of crafting the solution comes into play.

It’s All About Perspective

So how do I convince my potential customer that what they are asking for won’t help them – but we can get them to where they would like to be – and have them hear me? What works best for us is to truly focus on their perspective – walk the situation “in their shoes”.

I start by looking at the basics:

What are their challenges? OK, this sounds like kind of a no-brainer, right? But you can’t just ask what the problem is; you need to go into detective mode here. Look around, what is causing that problem? Is “the problem” actually just a symptom of a larger or different issue? That was actually the case with our friend seeking hardware. Sure, we could alleviate the symptom. But in doing so, would that solve the larger problem? Or worse, would it create other problems?

What is their experience? How have they approached these problems in the past? We’ve come into a lot of organizations where they are hesitant to look at full solutions because the ones they’ve attempted in the past have failed. Our friends with the hardware request were leery of software since the last time they added a new software solution, it “just added more work”. But the hardware was something that they could physically hold and felt like a tangible tool. Their experience led them to focus on the hardware and hinder consideration of other options.

What do they see as their needs? Our hardware client came to us saying that they needed hardware to solve X problem and that their larger goal was a “state of the art” operation. They thought that new hardware was a strong next step. In digging, we saw that they did need newer hardware (but not what they were requesting), but that also needed real-time communication with core business systems and some key realignment of their work processes. Their true NEED, in our opinion, was pretty simple – greater efficiency across the operation. They needed more than just a piece of hardware.

We couldn’t arrive at this information without discussion and digging. And we certainly couldn’t convey to our client what our thoughts and recommendations were without truly understanding where he was coming from in his request.

Perspective is really not a difficult concept – however, it is definitely an overlooked tool – but one that has been very effective for us. Think about this the next time you go to buy something that needs a little thought – a phone, a car, that ____ for your home. Is the salesperson understanding your perspective? How about the next time you are talking to a client or a prospective client – are you confident that you understand their view?

We see this fairly frequently when we begin working with clients on their asset tracking needs.  How do you handle this – either as a consumer or a salesperson? Or both?