Helping Buyers See Your Value
Buyers are often not experts in what they are looking to purchase. Helping your potential customer by giving them a “Buyer’s Formula” allows you to give them essential guidance while helping yourself.
Please tell me if this sounds familiar: A potential customer contacts you for a quotation, and you can immediately recognize their inexperience with what they are looking to buy. They are likely inquiring about somewhat irrelevant aspects of your offering and do not touch upon the real value drivers. What you see as your key advantages are qualities they do not know about. And hence they don’t feature in their initial inquiry.
That is a very usual situation for specialized businesses, from bike shops to UX design companies. Any time when there is a significant knowledge differential between buyer and seller, problems arise.
One of the fundamental problems you face in this situation is not the inexperience of the customer but its consequences. You have likely worked hard to build up your expertise and differentiation, yet you won’t be able to leverage that with inexperienced buyers. Worse — to them, your less differentiated competitors might look very similar.
At this stage, if you do not find a way to change the basis of competition, the buyer will end up comparing merely on a price basis. As an expert, who has honed his craft over the years, you most likely won’t win on price. And you do not want to either. This is not why you entered the business in the first place. You believe in your offering’s superiority, and you know you will make the buyer more successful than your competitor ever will.
RFPs for Design Services
My own company started out specializing in UX design. Since then, we have significantly broadened our service scope and our skills, but the design services business is an excellent example of what we are talking about.
Being specialized in UX design services means that we have honed both the process and the craft that we are offering to customers. The process is all about research, assumptions, prototyping, testing, and iterating. The craft is then above the methods and tools we use. All of this is applied to a problem the customer has to create an outcome they desire.
When a design team at the buyer’s side, who are also experts, inquire about our support, they ask exactly about the process and craft we have honed. They want to know how we work, how thorough our analyses are, and whether we have a similar cadence to work closely together.
An inexperienced buyer, on the other hand, would inquire about a fixed output. E.g., “I need a mobile app with five features, including x, y, and z.”. This buyer is not aware of details of the process of the craft and only has an output in mind, not even an outcome. They do not know what to ask for to be successful with their undertaking.
Enter the “Buyer’s Formula”
In his book “Flip the Script,” author Oren Klaff introduces the Buyer’s Formula. This concept has stuck with me since I learned about it, and I have used it successfully multiple times to address the problem outlined in the beginning. The key is to equip the buyer with your sophistication, but leave them to make their own decision. Through your expert guidance, they might come to see what to really look out for. Here is how it works:
Establish your expert status
You want to open by stating your experience and expertise. You will want essentially to say, “I deal with this kind of thing all the time. Let me try and help.” To do that, refer to your years of experience and the large amount of highly similar situations you have handled successfully.
Outline obvious ways to fail
After establishing your expertise, you need to give the potential buyer clear boundaries. Outline what they need to look out for, and where they need to draw the line. Give them useful guidance on what will lead to failure, and how they can avoid that at all cost.
Highlight counterintuitive ways to fail
Once you have spoken about the obvious boundaries, give them a map to the more granular territory. You will want to reference very specific industry terms and knowledge that highlight your expertise and make it clear that you are a great guide to helping them with their problem.
List obvious actions
Now we get into concrete actions the buyer should take. Based on the initial inquiry you have received and what you know about their problem, outline a plan. That can include pricing recommendations, process recommendations, or whatever else might be relevant.
Less obvious “hacks”
The next thing you want to incorporate is expert tips — anything that you would only figure out by doing something a hundred times or more. This highlights the value of your experience and how invaluable you can be to the customer if they choose to work with you specifically.
Hand over autonomy
Following the initial outline, you can hand the autonomy back to the client. You do not want them to feel like you are controlling their decisions. Phrases like “This is just what I would do/lookout for” can be useful here, to detach yourself from the outcome.
Keep The Buyer Within The Formula
After you have established the Buyer’s Formula and handed back autonomy, your client is in charge again. Equipped with better questions and a map, they will hopefully ask better questions and follow your script. Should they venture outside of your formula, then you can gently redirect them back within the boundaries, by referencing it.
If you are in a business where longer negotiations are the norm (like in my own business), the buyer will hopefully also use your formula to evaluate your competitor’s offerings. In every subsequent presentation and proposal, you will want to highlight important aspects of your Buyer’s Formula to keep those top of mind for your client.
At the same time, there will always be buyers who do not respect your experience or expertise. They will reject your suggestions or ignore them. They likely either think they know better (which they usually don’t) or they simply can’t appreciate the quality of your advice. In either case, do not waste too much time with this buyer, as they will likely not appreciate your expertise and will be very painful to work with.
Good clients will be thankful for you sharing your insights and helping them make better decisions. They won’t always decide for you, to be sure, but the time and effort you expended on helping them will not go unrewarded. You will stay in their mind as a trustworthy expert whom they can refer back to in the future, or recommend to others when needed.
Dealing with inexperienced buyers is never easy, because of the knowledge differential. When clients do not know what to ask for to be successful with what they are buying, you can hardly leverage your expertise. To help them, and give you a better chance of winning their business, give them the formula to follow for their decision. It ideally incorporates the following steps:
- Establish your expert status
- Outline obvious ways to fail
- Highlight counterintuitive ways to fail
- List obvious actions
- Less obvious “hacks”
- Hand over autonomy
Equipped with your Buyer’s Formula, the potential client will hopefully know what to look out for and make a better buying decision for themselves. You might still not get their business, but rest assured you helped someone with your experience. That alone is also rewarding.
If you have any thoughts, responses, or questions to add, I would love to hear from you in the comments below, or feel free to reach out to me directly via LinkedIn. Thank you for reading.