A quotation is the way to answer a customer's questions. Obviously, a customer wants to minimise any risks involved in making a purchase. That applies even more in the case of a customised product or service, such as software-based solutions or machinery. The customer will then have a number of concerns:
If the answer to any of these questions proves to be ‘no’, the damage and irritation to the customer may be considerable. Of course he can ask you these questions directly. He may then receive well crafted answers in response, but no real assurance or confidence regarding the outcome. Consciously or subconsciously, he will then ask himself the following three questions. His answers will be based on his experience with you and your company.
You customer is looking for a solution to his needs and answers to his questions. This quest is surrounded by uncertainties. Some examples:
'We print packaging materials for the food industry. I need a printing machine capable of printing 400 metres of cardboard a minute. Can your machines do that?'
'We are a collection agency and we receive around 600 pieces of mail and official documents every day. Do you have suitable equipment and software that can scan and process them fast and correctly?'
Your customer expects your employees to be familiar with the sector. He doesn’t have the time or inclination to explain exactly how his company works and how your solution should be integrated into his processes. You therefore need to have that sector knowledge anchored within your organisation. He only expects to answer any questions that are specific to his needs.
The customer also expects your salesperson to have the same product knowledge as his colleagues and that this knowledge will be applied to his benefit each and every time. The customer does not want to feel that he’s speaking to a junior who isn’t yet fully trained and who doesn’t know all the product options. Nor does he want to deal with the old hand who prefers to sell the tried and trusted product. In both cases, the customer fears that he won’t receive the right solution for his needs. The customer assumes that knowledge is actively shared within your company.
Often, your customer doesn’t have enough time to look for the best solution himself. On the other hand, he wants to have it quickly. He’s often under time pressure from his own customers and wants service now. It’s not ideal when the salesperson doesn’t have all the answers and repeatedly has to consult colleagues about specific product options, prices or delivery times. Customers expect to deal with an expert advisor, not an uninformed salesperson.
During his online search and through his business relations, the customer has scoured the market for potential solutions. It quickly appeared that many products are available from many suppliers which would match his needs, but that they are difficult to compare. There always seem to be subtle or major differences in terms of product characteristics, product options, prices, contract forms and maintenance costs.
Your customer really only has one question in this respect: 'What product – in which version and contract form – best fits my needs and budget?'
Getting exactly what he needs at the most competitive price is what your customer wants. And he doesn’t want to run the risk that the chosen solution later proves to be unsuitable or incurs unexpected maintenance costs. So you must only propose appropriate solutions and be honest if you are unable to help the customer with his needs and budget.
Crucially, you must remember that a customer only purchases a product or service because he wants to achieve something with it. So he wants your company to make specific enquiries to this end. In other words, what’s the bigger picture surrounding your product or service?
'We wanted to reduce our energy costs so we thought that we needed an entirely new heating system. When the supplier learned why we were interested, he suggested that we insulate our building and install sunblinds and solar panels. We therefore spent less money and obtained a grant that the supplier arranged for us.'
A potential customer usually wants to present his needs quickly. It’s up to your sales staff to question the customer about the details and establish their needs. Obviously the customer doesn’t know what the salesperson needs to know in order to propose the right product or what product best fits his needs. The salesperson therefore has to do this quickly and correctly.
You customer also wants to see his specific needs set out in the quotation. He wants to read the description of your product or service in his own – understandable – language. This might involve adding a 2D or 3D drawing if this helps avoid misunderstandings. All the essential technical descriptions of your product should preferably be included as an appendix. The customer also expects a clear explanation in the document of how your company has translated his specific needs and budget into the proposed solution. Failure to do this will leave the customer feeling uncertain and he may then decide to keep looking for other options.
In recent years, people have significantly raised the bar when it comes to their expectations regarding service. The use of computer technology (databases, apps) and the Internet in the Business-to-Consumer markets has produced major market shifts. Customers want be served fast and correctly. A supplier's inefficient and customer-unfriendly approach soon becomes public knowledge through reviews and social media, like Twitter and Facebook. Customers quickly remove that supplier from their lists.
The Business-to-Business customer also has the same high expectations when he makes a purchase. It’s therefore important to organise all the business processes with which the customer comes into contact as efficiently as possible. From initial contact through to delivery and payment. The customer will only want to provide the information required for your proposal once. He then wants you to retain that information and use it in all subsequent processes in your company. After all, his time is money. And if you do require additional information later on, about the delivery date for example, make sure you update your existing customer information. And notify the customer if any agreements need to be adjusted as a result of the new information. The fact that different departments are involved in these processes is of no concern to the customer. As long as you stick to the agreements made about your product, price and delivery.
Look at your company through your customer’s eyes. His view of your company is largely determined by your sales staff. These are the people with whom he does business. Or not. This certainly applies if your company produces customised products and services. The quotation must confirm what the salesperson, as advisor, has promised.
In practice, sales staff deserves greater support in this process. The quality of the quotation (speed, completeness, transparency, correct presentation) determines whether the customer actually gets the right answers. Sofon's software is your guarantee in this. With this software, you create a single truth in your company with regard to product compositions, calculations, quotations, contracts, production orders, etc. As such, you are taking a crucial step forward.
So make doing business with you an attractive proposition for the customer. Look through your customer’s eyes and improve the tools available to your sales staff.
If you are interested in discussing this subject further, please feel free contact me.
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