We have all felt it; the sting of all that effort as a sale slips away – and the accompanying hard reality that there might not be work next month.
It’s easy to make ourselves feel better by saying “We can’t compete with pricing like that!” or “They simply met the client’s needs better.”
However, the fact is that price is only an issue in the absence of value – and customers only choose a product based purely on features when they feel comfortable making a completely commoditised buying decision.
There are other factors that separate the winners from the losers and that can account for whether or not a sale comes together.
1. The customer’s buying style
Does the customer want you to listen, understand their needs and then deliver a solution to match? Or does the customer want to be challenged on their assumptions and choice? Or do they just want to deal with a nice person who will look after their interests long-term?
The answer lies in how comfortable they are with conflict. Customers will usually fall into one of two camps – those who are comfortable being challenged and those who avoid conflict. Your job is to figure out which one they are, and adapt your approach to match. If, for example, you get the feeling the customer is not comfortable with conflict, don’t challenge their decisions. Instead, listen carefully and deliver the best solution for their needs.
2. There really is only one decision maker
The salesperson only really needs to convince the one person. It doesn’t matter if there is a committee or a department, or ultimately how many so-called ‘decision makers’ there are; one person will have enough authority to have the final say. Sure, play the politics, look out for individual interests and stimulate constructive conflict. But ultimately, use your time to find and understand the real decision maker. Otherwise you could be left with a situation where you’ve put your efforts into getting five people to say yes – but the one that mattered still said no.
3. Are you a market leader?
Unless your company controls the market – has the most market share, the best products, more marketing and advertising budget – life can be difficult for a salesperson.
But customers are usually happy to seriously consider a second-tier competitor when the salesperson can demonstrate a fair exchange of value for price. If your product or service can deliver most of the features at a market competitive price, the sale can be swayed for emotional reasons such as trust and whether or not the salesperson is likeable.
Price is a factor in every buying decision, no doubt about it. But it is not THE deciding factor. In fact, for most people, price sits about sixth on the list. Salespeople get caught talking about price and can become fixated on trying to be the lowest, but buyers are either price-conscious or relatively price immune. If you are dealing with a prospect that is price-conscious, you need to demonstrate that your value and price is comparative, but spend more time on the value. If your prospect is price immune, they want the product that is the best fit for their needs. In this case, the decision will not be made on price, but on benefits delivered against their needs.
I’ve always said the worst answer a customer can give me is a “maybe”. Give me a “no” and I can move on, and look for a sale elsewhere. Tell me “maybe” and I could spend hours following up, calling and trying to get the timing right.
Bureaucratic process is usually the cause of the dreaded maybe. It could be that another internal project is taking priority or that the person you are speaking with is not truly the decision maker.
You can simply ask “is there anything I can do to get this across the line?” If you aren’t given a list of the things you can do to improve your deal, you don’t have a deal. Move on.
Don’t be fooled into thinking buyers only make rational decisions. Human beings make emotional decisions all the time. People buy based on how they feel. Great salespeople master the intuitive, intangible element of human interaction. Understand the person you are selling to and you can consistently be the winner.