(Spec.) War, Huh, What is it Good For?

It's a spec war out there!How do you cope with ‘spec wars’? You know the sort of thing I mean – on paper, your system measures to +/- 5 mm, your competitor’s equivalent measures to +/- 3 mm.

Sure, it looks like there is a real difference but when you consider the accuracy of measurement is on something 40 m long, it starts to look a little less significant. (We’re talking about measurements that are accurate to +/-99.9875% and +/-99.9925% here.)

The glib answer is that if you are getting involved in spec. wars, you haven’t done a good enough job earlier in the sales process.

As glib answers aren’t that helpful in the real world, let’s try a different approach.

Before you get too embroiled in discussing the fine detail of features (because that’s what we’re talking about), remember that a customer does not buy features, he only buys what benefits him. It can be a failing with tech- or engineering-based sales people to tell the prospect EVERYTHING that their offering can do. This achieves two things:

  • Forces the customer to dig through a lot of useless (to him) information to find out what he needs to know
  • Sets you up nicely for a point-by-point comparison of features with your competitors

If it’s not too late, go back to your customer and start asking questions. I don’t mean those trite “what keeps you up at night?” or “what causes you the most pain at the moment?” questions. Go deep and wide with your questioning. This will help you to understand broadly what influences and drives your customer and not just what immediate problem he is trying to solve.

It’s not a quick and easy process, it has to be done methodically.

  • Identify an issue
  • Identify if the issue is a need
  • Qualify the importance of the need
  • Support the need with customer-accepted benefits
  • Test for acceptance
  • Repeat for the next issue

As you move through this process, you are building a value proposition for your customer.

Finish by summarising all of the needs and the benefits that have been agreed. If the customer is still fixated on a paper specification, you have not built enough value so step back into identifying additional issues, needs and benefits to be able to build additional value.

It’s important to recognise that you may actually qualify yourself out of the process during this questioning phase. That’s fine – it’s all part of the sales process. There’s no point in pursuing opportunities that are never going to turn into an order for you.

Level the Playing Field

However, before you walk away, just check that your customer is comparing apples with apples. Most companies, including yours, choose the performance criteria that suit them best.

For example, an error in linearity of measurement could be based on Terminal Linearity, Zero Linearity or it could be Linearity Independent, that is “Best Fit Straight Line.” Each method will give a different answer for error so it is important that both you and the customer have a full understanding of the terms that used so that a true comparison is made.

If the customer still doesn’t want to buy from you then the best you can do is chalk it up to experience and start the process earlier next time!

Thanks to John Alexander, Dave Farman, Rob Edgar and Muthu Ramani for their contributions via the Instrumentation Sales Experts group on LinkedIn.

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