You sell a great product, but it doesn’t do everything. Nor should it. But prospects sure know how to go for our weak spots, don’t they? Does your product import my test scores? Does it have assistive technology? Is it aligned to the new standards that were drafted five minutes ago? Can it do the cha-cha? How do you respond ‘no’ without losing the deal?

Ever fly Southwest Airlines? Many people are fanatical about them. I’m lukewarm, but I get it. Price is right, no change fees, bags fly free. They get a fair amount of my travel business for these reasons. They have downsides. They don’t apologize for them. Legendary former Southwest Chairman Herb Kelleher is famous for establishing the airline’s clear mission and tunnel vision. In Made to Stick, Kelly is described as having a single filter for all suggested improvements: Will this make us THE low-fare airline? If someone suggests they serve salads or add international routes, he runs it through his filter. If it helps Southwest in their mission to be the leading low cost carrier, they consider it. If not, he points out why.

We don’t all have Southwest’s evolved business model, but we can adopt their confidence and conviction in our own mission when we are faced with responding to a prospect or customer that wants a feature we don’t have. Requested features are not always right to build or feasible to build, and every go to market strategy is some balance of product, service and price. You’ll have the most success overcoming “feature objections” when you project confidence, know your corporate mission and understand the complete value proposition includes weighing cost as well as razzmatazz.

Perhaps some of these approaches will work for your particular situation:

1.  Remind them about the cost-product equation.

“Nancy, our product mission is to [x] and at an affordable price. Products that build in the capability you’re asking about do so at the expense of a much higher cost to schools. Let’s talk about other tools your teachers have that could get [the thing she is asking for] accomplished.”

2.  Remind them about your unique value the other guys don’t have.

“We sometimes get that request from customers migrating over from [competitive product], because it is a habit they have, but our customer studies have taught us that users quickly appreciate [your advantage] and realize they accomplish their goals even better because [x].” You may recognize this as a “feel-felt-found” style answer. You can look that technique up online if you like it.

3.  Teach them that ‘ease of use’ is king in all technology.

“Our customers keep telling us that ease of use is their highest priority, and we have seen dramatic usage increase for every simplification we’ve made. Very intentionally we keep features to a minimum lest we complicate the product and decrease user adoption.”  Simple also equates to lower internal training and support costs for a district.

4. A subtle warning to be careful what you wish for.

“Bob, the reason we have not included that functionality, is because districts have very custom requirements for [that function] and building a toolset for it would necessarily limit their freedom and creativity. Tell me more about how your staff does [that function] now.” Once you know, help him understand how the processes/tools used in tandem with your product more easily and more flexibly solve his need.

5.  Minimize the importance of their purported need.

“No, but let me understand more about why you would like that feature.”  Listen and then return to their priority needs from your needs analysis earlier in the meeting. “If I understand correctly you are really interested in getting [x] accomplished immediately, and [the new need] would be nice-to-have if affordable?”

Hopefully these What Would Herb Do tips will give you an option other than hitting the panic button in your next tough sales meeting.  As a final WWHD, remember that you can’t win ’em all, and often in serving part of the ed market really well, you are far more successful than in trying to serve all of it.

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