Technical sale fails

technical sale

Technical sale fails

At the weekend I had a disappointing customer experience involving a technical sale fail.

After 9 years good service my car stereo effectively died. Radio still works, but the aux input and CD player died within a couple of months of each other. I needed something new.

Given the choice between a local car audio boutique or a supercheapautobarnmart, I opted for the boutique because I didn’t really know what I wanted but needed some informed guidance.

It started reasonably well: we started chatting, I explained my situation and he started showing me some options for a new car stereo, or ‘head unit’ as I was learning they are called now.

But then it all went a bit weird and frustrating. He seemed to narrow down my options quickly by himself, and then went over to his desk and started reciting different makes and models that all seemed problematic or were out of stock.  Ten minutes later, I walked out with a quote but with absolutely no confidence in it.  I didn’t feel good about my experience.

Later that day, I headed down to the local supercheapautobarnmart not expecting much better.  I was pleasantly surprised. Young bloke (not always a good sign), but he asked some good questions, patiently explained the options and the trade offs, and helped me narrow down my options to 2 models that I felt good about. Later that day I went back, signed up and bought my lovely new head unit – a Kenwood! – from supercheapautobarnmart.

Technical sale fail

All good then apart from the fact I couldn’t help wondering what exactly had gone wrong at the boutique. I actually checked if the car audio boutique had the same model. They had! and were actually marginally cheaper, but I couldn’t bring myself to go back there because it was just too hard to buy.

On reflection, this was a classic technical sale fail.  The owner/manager of the boutique demonstrated a classic technical mindset and it was this that led to no sale and a disappointing experience.

The technical mindset focuses on the technical detail, their own expertise and final products/services rather than customer value. Professionals such as lawyers, accountants and engineers often have technical mindsets – they focus on how their expertise can deliver superior technical solutions but are often oblivious to real client value in terms of time, the emotions, money, risk and convenience.

In addition to the above, people can lack confidence in customer facing activities or might simply find other activities more rewarding or stimulating.

A technical mindset is not necessarily ‘bad’ in itself – it is often necessary – but it can often distract people from being truly customer-centric. Having a true customer-centric mindset means being able to recognise when to focus all you energies on the customer.

In my experience at the weekend, this technical mindset led to a technical sale fail because:

  •  He seemed unduly interested in demonstrating his technical knowledge
  •  He didn’t bring me on the journey by educating me: he seemed more comfortable maintaining the technical knowledge gap
  •  His questions were too narrow and technical, whereas I was more interested in broader ‘experience’ issues
  •  He wanted to problem-solve and make the decision for me, rather than help me problem-solve for myself. He removed my control.
  •  In his efforts to demonstrate his technical expertise he confused me and also highlighted too many problems or challenges that made me feel anxious about buying anything.
  •  He made no effort to close. It was as if, having ‘solved my problem’, and in his view come up with the perfect recommendation, his job was done.


In contrast, my young friend at supercheapautobarnmart – who displayed equal technical knowledge as far as I can tell – displayed perfect sales technique. He asked good questions, he listened, he focused on the best solution for me, not the best technical solution, and he kept me in relaxed control throughout the discussion.

For many technical people, the mindset shift is difficult and one recommendation is to encourage a focus on the sales process. Technical people like process, and can be great salespeople for this reason. Give them the tools in terms of understanding variables, understanding the dynamics of sales, which questions to ask in the right circumstances – and watch them go.