“Buyers want their suppliers to make life simpler for them. They say, ‘Show me real productivity gains in a simple way that won’t burden my IT shop; don’t promise me the world.’”
Customers today may be more demanding than ever. With the information available to them on the Internet and the growing efforts among organizations to improve customer service, customers have not only come to expect more from suppliers, but they are more knowledgeable, more sophisticated, and more price sensitive. It has indeed become a buyer’s market, and the increasing leverage held by customers is putting unprecedented pressures on suppliers and leading to increased competition, lower prices, lower margins, and sales organizations scrambling to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
Sales organizations have caught on to the customer-focused movement by pursuing many of the organizational and technological strategies discussed in this book. For some of these organizations, however, their efforts to better serve customers are guided by their own ideas of what their customers value and how those customers prefer to buy. Even with elaborate customer service data-gathering techniques, figuring out what customers want is not easy, and their true preferences are not always observable or predictable.
Industry- or organizational-level changes among customers, such as consolidation, use of buying committees or electronic reverse auctions, and other “buying practices,” may be spotted fairly easily, but more team- and individual-level attitudinal changes in how and why customers buy can be far more difficult for sales organizations to pin down. For example, customers’ perceptions of relationships, what they value from suppliers, what they value or don’t value in their salesperson, and what drives their buying decisions, change often and are difficult to track.
This chapter attempts to paint a more complete picture of customers’ preferences and buying practices by identifying what they want, how they buy, and how that’s changing at the industry, company, and buyer levels. We look specifically at the changes in the behaviors and attitudes of customers as observed by the leading organizations interviewed for our study and compare them with findings from our survey study of customer buying behaviors and attitudes. This study, a survey of more than 500 buyers of information technology (IT) from small and medium-sized organizations across a wide variety of industries, attempts to shed light on what customers value most in their supplier, how they prefer to buy, where they prefer to buy, and what most influences their decision to buy or not to buy. This chapter reports the findings from this survey study to compare what sales organizations think customers want to what customers actually say they want from their salesperson and vendor organization. Reconciling what customers want with what and how salespeople deliver their products and services has important strategic implications for a sales organization’s ability to win over smarter and more demanding customers.