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Three customer types


Disciplines > Sales > Sales articles > Three customer types

The Financier | The Expert | The User


There are often three types of customer that you will have to deal with. Each has a different interest in the product and may be interested in the product at different times in the sales lifecycle.

Depending on the sale, they may all be roles played by one person or may be separate people. Generally speaking, the bigger the sale and the bigger the company being sold to, the more likely it is that these are separate people. They may also be whole groups or departments of people. If this is the case, you have many persuasive communications to make. 

In small sales and small companies, these may just be hats that the same person wears. In such cases, be aware of the hat they are wearing today! 

The Financier

This is the person who holds the strings to the purse. They give the go-ahead to purchase the product and effectively sign the purchase order.

They are interested in the product early on to make sure the company is not dreaming of too expensive equipment. Mostly, however, they are involved at the purchase decision stage. They may well have a lead role in the negotiations.

Their main concern is cost, so don't try telling them how great the product is.

The tools of the financier are the offers and price-lists of competitors, along with 'independent' comparative studies which show 'best value'.

Sell to the financier by showing how low your costs are compared with the opposition. If the product cost is high, show how the cost of ownership is low over the whole life of the product. You should also, of course, show how buying your product will save them money and increase their profits. Break-even time on the purchase is another good metric to use.

The Expert

When people are buying something that they do not fully understand, they will often call in an expert to give an opinion. They may also use the expert as a bludgeon to beat down the quality of your product.

Experts may be required to support use of the product if it is purchased, so ensure they know what support they can call on from your company, from technical help-lines to spare-parts deliveries.

When faced with an expert, you have a great opportunity to demonstrate what the product can really do. They may well be drawn in by technical features that, in practice, may not be of significant use. If you can get them on your side, they can be a great asset.

Watch out for the relationship between the expert and the financier. Experts can easily be precocious and annoying for financiers, and you may be able to downplay the importance of the experts negative comments.

When an expert is being critical, either have your product (and application) knowledge at your fingertips or call in your own expert. Experts often get on very well with one another and problems may get usefully lost in the tech-fest. They may also cross swords, so bring an expert who is also good a handling other people.

The User

Eventually, but not always, you may get to meet the person who is actually going to use the product you are selling.

In large companies, users are often a long way down from big purchase decisions. Computer users, for example, seldom specify the computers they use.

When selling to a user, focus on how the product can solve their real-world problems. Understand their pain, both from the application and how other products are not sufficiently helpful. Standard selling methods may then be used to move them into appreciation of benefit, features and so on.  

Users are usually very busy, and the hassle of learning to use a new product is important. They are also susceptible to irritation that may build up through product limitations. And when the product fails, the warranty and support offered may also be of interest. Always be aware of the user's fuller lifecycle of contact with the product.

See also


Buy Me

Robert L. Jolles, Customer Centered Selling, New York: Free Press, 1998 

A marvelous book for business-to-business sales people giving full details of the selling system used by Xerox. It challenges many of the more traditional sales techniques and even goes beyond modern approaches such as Neil Rackham?s SPIN Selling (which Jolles acknowledges as a significant influence). See also the review of this book.



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