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Overcoming Your Biggest Competitor
Before you read any further in this article, I'd like you to take a moment and write down who your biggest competition is.
OK, got it?
I'm going to go out on a limb here and tell you that no matter what company you wrote down, you're wrong. Here's what I'll tell you; no matter what industry you're in, no matter how long you've been selling, the biggest competition you face in selling is the status quo. The Status Quo; whatever it is your prospect is doing now - that's the key challenge you have to overcome in selling. Recognize this universal truth and you can become much more effective in your selling efforts.
To really understand why the Status Quo is such a formidable competitor it helps to explore a bit about the psychology of decision-making. According to psychologist and author Robert Cialdini "Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision."
Let's look at how this applies in selling. Getting a prospect to change what they are currently doing - even if you have a genuinely better solution - is difficult. Our natural reaction is to try to show how we what can offer is better, how we can save them money, how we can save them time, and so on. Yet, oftentimes the more we try to back up our presentation with facts and evidence, the more strongly our prospect will seek to justify and rationalize what they're already doing. Admitting that they made a bad (or less than optimal) choice, would create some real internal dissonance. The louder that dissonance the greater the search for rationalization and consistency becomes. This is particularly true if the decision made is a public one; the more people that know about the decision, the more the person who made it will seek consistency and resist changing.
For example, suppose you are selling a software solution that has been proven to save companies time and money - and you can document it. You call on the head of IT at a key prospect. He tells you that he has developed his own solution, which, according to him "does the same thing that your product does." As you show him the proprietary features of your program, he even admits that yes, it can do things his can't, and yes, it would save time and money, and yes, the CEO would really like the access to information it would provide. Yet, he won't proceed with the sale. Why? Well, what you may not know is that everyone in the company knows that the IT Director (your prospect) has been championing how great his own system is, and that his line throughout the company is "Why buy when we can create this system ourselves."
Even though he knows intellectually that you may have a better solution, he will do everything he can to justify his earlier decision; to do otherwise would cause great internal dissonance and discomfort.
So, then, how do you deal with this situation?
1. Recognize that your job in selling is to understand what people do - and to work with them to help them do things better.
2. Don't try to sell by showing that your product or service is better than the competitors' (or whatever else they might be doing).
Wait - that sounds inconsistent, you say. First you say that I should help him do things better, but I shouldn't show them why my product is better?
The seeming inconsistency resolves itself when you remove yourself from trying to "sell your product" and shift your focus to understanding what people do, why they do things that way, and what they're hoping to accomplish in the future. Your questions should be squarely focused on the prospect - not on you.
The best way to bring these seeming contradictory goals into alignment is to show your prospect how you can ENHANCE what they are already doing. By showing how you can enhance, in essence what you are saying is "Hey, you've got something that's working here, and I'm not going to upset your apple cart. My goal is to help you take what you've already got, and help you make it even better."
By taking the approach to enhance you accomplish two important things. First, you are helping the prospect maintain their sense of consistency which will make you an ally. Second, by starting with this approach, you may make a small sale initially but you now have the door open to larger sales and the beginning of a long-term relationship.
As Cialdini sums up "For the salesperson, the strategy is to obtain a large purchase by starting with a small one. Almost any small sale will do, because the purpose of that small transaction is not profit. It is commitment. Further purchases, even much larger ones, are expected to flow from the commitment."
Copyright 2005 Lexien Management Consultants, Inc
Mark Dembo; President, Lexien Management Consultants (http://www.lexien.com) Mark has over 20 years of sales, sale management, and business development experience, focused on improving the performance of individuals and organizations. Lexien Management Consultants provides sales training, consulting, and coaching services to organizations and individuals who are motivated to grow their businesses. Each month, Lexien publishes the Sales Success Newsletter.
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