Giving up the sale to gain customers and their trust
I run a small custom software development company in Oklahoma. Our bread and butter is to consult with businesses and help them determine what software they need to best achieve their goals. Sometimes, we end up writing something new from scratch. But, more often than not, we find something that's cheaper and fits their needs almost perfectly. I believe that every software developer faces these situations in multiple client encounter. While those times might not end in a high-value sale, the do provide an excellent chance to build trust and rapport with both your existing and new customers.
When I was younger, I worked in the Electronics department at a Walmart store. At least a few times a day, I'd encounter a customer asking for something they either didn't really need or that we didn't carry. It would have been very easy for me to squeeze them into buying something that wasn't "quite" a fit, but ended up in a sale for the company. But that's not what I did. In those cases, I would openly tell the customer that we either didn't sell what they were looking for or that they didn't actually need what they thought they did. But it didn't end there: I then worked to help them find a solution to their problem that actually fit their needs. Sometimes, that meant sending them to a competitor and sometimes that meant selling them a different, and cheaper, product. But, over time, I noticed something happen: my customers began to trust me. They knew that I wasn't all about the sale and that I genuinely cared about what they needed. I started to see them come directly to me for advice on their electronics purchases, treating me like a trusted consultant, sure in the knowledge that I would always do what was in their best interest, even if it cost Walmart a sale. They even started to send their friends and families to me, asking for recommendations, help with things they didn't understand, and tough purchasing decisions. It got so common that, for a while, my bosses thought I was running a business from the department and threatened to fire me! Still, I remained loyal to my customers and not the sale. The sale was secondary. Trust was paramount. You know what happened? Sales went up for my department!
It sounds counter-intuitive to think that putting the sale second would increase business. Every business book you read tells you to "Always Be Closing" when you're dealing with customers. But customers don't buy from businesses, they buy from trusted partners and nowhere is that more true than it is when they are buying high end services like software development for their company.
As a technical consultant, it's easy to scam customers. They come to us with vague ideas of what they want, no idea of time or costs estimates, and often put us in positions where we are able to waste tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Being able to set the sale aside and say to your customer 'Mr. Customer, I could spend $250,000 of your money easily by building a custom solution. But that isn't what you need. There is an off-the-shelf package that either meets your needs or could be customized much cheaper" is a super hard thing to do. But, in the end, it will build a trust with your customer that no level of technical expertise could ever develop. Your customer will stop seeing you as 'that consult' and start seeing you are 'a partner'. That is where the magic happens. It's there, where it's dollars versus ethics, where relationships that last a lifetime are build and you have a fantastic opportunity to tap into that.
Lastly, don't think this article only applies to software sales. It applies to any kind of sale where the customer is at a disadvantage to the salesperson (which are most sales).Show ethics, show that you're watching their bottom line as carefully as they are, become a trusted partner instead of a salesperson. Only then will you be sure to have customers for life and that's where the money is truly made.