The Road to Sales and Marketing Success is Paved with NO ASSUMPTIONS!

A sales engineer I know sells technical software. He described a situation in which most people in his industry acknowledged a problem that could be solved by one of his software modules. Ironically, he was having a devil of a time getting them to buy it.

I asked, “Well, if they won’t buy it, can you give it away?”

“Excuse me? The thing is only $300!”

“You may be on the brink of discovering something important,” I told him. “You need to know if they would use it for free or not. If not, there may be something you are missing.”

“Hmmm. You know, I showed the software to a VP just yesterday, and he liked it enough to ask for a proposal. I basically let him have the software, and quoted the data integration for $3000 – dirt cheap. You know what he said?”

“He said, ‘You want $3000 for data integration? That sounds like a lot of money!'”

At first, my sales rep friend was amazed that his VP commoditized integration labor. But I corrected him.

“He hasn’t commoditized it. He has no idea what data integration is or that he needs it. The reason you can’t sell your “solution” is that you have not sold the problem first. To me it sounds like you are trying to sell the wrong thing, to the wrong person.”

In fact, this kind of problem goes on constantly in every market in the world. Buyers want to solve their problems. Sellers want to sell their solutions. They seem to be speaking the same language, yet they fail to come to agreement. Ultimately, it’s because, as baseball great Satchel Paige said, “It’s not what you know that will kill you. Its what you know that just ain’t so.”

My sales rep friend above didn’t realize that the buyer was ignorant of the technical hurdles of data integration. Big mistake.

Likewise, the VP (the buyer) could hardly be blamed. Yet he was about to make his own “big mistake.” In other words, there definitely was a sales opportunity here. Just not the one originally envisioned by either party!

Putting a price on the situation prevented both parties from learning what the real issue was.

Two Valuable Lessons:

1) Assumptions are the enemy: Always check your premises.

Aristotle, the father of the scientific method, taught people to look for facts. His insights spawned western civilization. Just like the best scientists, all of us whether we are leaders, salespeople, marketers, accountants, or engineers need to diligently validate whether what we know is really so. This is especially true with friends, lovers, and customers.

This need for checking your facts cannot succeed if it is accepted by only a few people in an organization. It must permeate the culture of the corporation. That is why programs like Six Sigma, with all their warts, are still so valuable to businesses everywhere.

Andrew Downward, a blogger for iSixSigma, recently posted a great piece in this regard. He looked up “Six Sigma Sucks” on Google, and studied the main reasons cited by Six Sigma’s detractors. His rebuttal is worth the read.

2) If your customers aren’t doing what you want them to do, you probably don’t know what they want. If you are in this boat, it can be difficult to figure out what is going on. Conversely, if you do know what your customers want it is much easier to move toward  “The Tipping Point,” that point
at which market momentum tips in your favor and competitors have much greater difficulty than you do.

It is unfortunate that marketing departments in the past have not had much of a role in defining and refining a typical company’s understanding of its customers. Yet that too is starting to change.

Two articles from a company called “The Phelon Group” ( were recently published on While I do not know any one at Phelon, I commend these articles to you as the direction of the future in marketing (you may need to become a member of
MarketingProfs to get these pieces):

How Voice of the Customer Got Its Groove Back (and How to Stay in Tune)

Making Marketing a Relevant VOC Leader

In Chapter 4 of my book, “Sales and Marketing the Six Sigma Way,” I describe a Six Sigma project that was essentially a VOC around what prospects needed in their journey to solve their own problems. The data enabled us to devise a new sales process that nearly doubled conversion.

In my humble opinion, that sort of thing is the wave of the future in sales and marketing. I’ve been checking my premises and assumptions for several years now. They have continually pointed in this direction.

Michael Webb
August 8, 2006

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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