Competitive Selling: Out-Plan, Out-Think, and Out-Sell to Win Every Time
Sell value versus price. This concept applies equally well to convincing investors to fund you, employees to join you, or customers to buy from you. Show them you are the highest value alternative, not the lowest price. Show them a return on investment ROI in their own terms. Establish the competitive playing field early. Do your "due diligence" through good homework before someone else sets the parameters. For investors, find out what they like, what they need, and what they have done, before the first meeting. Then sell to these points.
Do the same to get the best employees, and win key customers. When you are competing for the business of an innovator company, your demonstrated ability to help the company enhance its market share and differentiate itself within its core businesses not only will trump the recommendations of your competition but also will usually make the issue of price a nonfactor in the buying decision. Innovators will pay a premium for good advice, and they welcome unique approaches to addressing business challenges.
They are also a lot of fun to work with. The bad news? This corporate culture is the exception, not the rule. Much more common is the replicator culture—the company that follows the pack rather than leading it. If that innovator succeeds, then the replicators typically follow suit. The replicator mentality carries over into the competitive sale as well. Replicators are conservative by nature. Identifying which culture you are dealing with is important to your strategy for winning the business. When making your initial visit to the prospect, conduct your due diligence.
During your visits there, take a hard look at the investment they have made in the building, the furniture, and the technology. Learn as much about the organization as you can.
If possible, talk to other vendors in noncompetitive service areas who have worked with the prospect. These activities can tell you volumes about the kind of people with whom you are dealing. However, while this is the beginning of the process for you, it actually marks the end of a process for the company with which you are hoping to do business. The fact is that the decision to buy from somebody already has been made by the time you and your competitors have been called into the discussion. Figure 4—1 shows the usual chain of events as follows: 1.
Someone in the company initiates an idea or points out a need. A group of employees with an interest in the idea—the inner circle—is gathered to discuss it. Additional members of the group who have an interest or a stake in the idea or need are recruited at this point. The idea or need is formalized.
At this point it is then formally submitted by the ranking member of the inner circle to the person with authority to approve a budget for it. This, in selling terms, is your decision maker. The decision maker then approves the funding for the idea— giving it life, in a sense—and, having done so, removes himself or herself, completely and permanently, from any further involvement in the process. In other words, since the funds are approved prior to your being contacted, the person who approved the budget is long departed from the scene by the time that you and your competitors arrive for your initial meetings.
This is neither good nor bad; it is simply the environment in which you are operating. This simple point is a critical, and often overlooked, difference between routine selling opportunities and competitive ones. Salespeople who ignore this transfer of ownership and focus on selling to the decision maker are wasting their time when it comes to the competitive sale.
They pursue access to a person who has not a smidgen of interest or involvement in the active buying process. Once this person approves funding, they are no longer involved in the buying process. The inner circle now owns the decision. This information now serves as both an asset and a liability. However, even in these cases, the private information secondary needs are an altogether different story. Rest assured, the inner circle will have differing opinions on some and perhaps all of these private information areas.
These are not validated facts. The meeting went well; we spent over an hour together in a detailed discussion of the organization and its needs. Using a technique that I will cover later in this book, I made my decision and went for broke.
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In this case, I was able to tactfully navigate around this person. As it turns out, he did. I received a phone call the very next morning. The vice president was impatient and annoyed. His apathetic response? One person can have multiple roles, and you also may have multiple people in the same role. Each of these six roles will positively or negatively affect your chances of winning the sale. These are as follows. This person is referred to here as the vested-interest contact VIC. However, his or her area of responsibility will be directly affected to a large degree by the purchase decision, so he or she naturally has the most at stake.
A no vote from this person in the competitive evaluation process is a virtual guarantee that you will not be selected.
It is therefore critical that you identify this individual early in the selling cycle and focus on gaining his or her buy-in as part of your competitive selling strategy. While the VIC cannot necessarily ensure your success, his or her support is a huge asset. As a lowerranking member of the crew, Spock was accountable to his captain— at least on the organizational chart, that is.
In other words, Spock essentially made the big decisions in the capacity of a trusted advisor, and Kirk then would execute those decisions. A Spock personality is seen often within inner circles.
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Spock is the person within the group who possesses the most in-house expertise with regard to your products or services. Because of this, he or she will assume a key position of authority and will serve as an advisor to all the other members of the inner circle. This is a person who is used to telling others what to do and having other people follow his or her instructions without question or resistance.
This tactic usually will blow up in your face. If Spock wants to know your opinion, he or she will ask. The group waits for that person to speak. Every inner circle has its trigger. The trigger is the person who has formal authority for approving the recommendation of the inner circle. This person may or may not be the ranking person within the group. He or she is the de facto decision maker once the budget is approved, as outlined earlier.
The Unpaid Consultant: Out-Sell Your Competitors
This was a unique situation in that some years earlier I had lost a sale at the same company to a competitor. This time I was much better prepared. This time I asked for and obtained access to the inner circle. For this second chance, the decision process was different, and it had a much larger cast. It seemed that everyone had his or her own agenda. Fortunately, I had a mole. Because of my prior relationship with her, she proved to be invaluable in helping me to do just that.
At my initial meeting with the inner circle, the trigger publicly informed me that the committee would be looking at several of my competitors. Yes, I expected that. That was nice to know. As a matter of fact, I would. Very much. We eventually got to the proposal stage and—surprise! Now you understand the value of having a mole. Having a mole in the competitive sale is the single biggest advantage you can hope for.
However, this does not prevent you from developing a mole relationship within the prospect company. The mole can be anyone within the inner circle— but you are looking for a person who makes it clear that if it were his or her sole decision, you would be the selected vendor.