Throughout our careers as sales performance consultants, much has changed in the field of sales. We hear sales people speak today of new challenges, such as very well-informed customers, limited access to decision-makers, and limited life spans of competitive advantages. One element of sales that hasn’t changed is a sales person’s readiness to blame a lost opportunity on price. In our years as sales performance consultants, we have asked sales people the following question countless times – “Why do you think the customer selected your competitor?” By far, the number one response to this question is “Price”. It could be phrased in a number of ways, but the crux of the message is, “I couldn’t create enough value for my customer to select my solution over other less costly alternatives.” In fact, sellers have said this so many times that it has almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The issue with placing all the blame on PRICE, is that the sellers are the only ones doing it. Although price is the single biggest reason sellers give for losing a deal, it is seldom the reason customers give for choosing someone else.
Just recently we were working with the sales team of a large medical device product manufacturer. Part of our project was to evaluate lost opportunities in hopes of finding out what was going wrong. Sales people inside this organization clearly felt the majority of deals lost were because of non-competitive product pricing. In fact, in the evaluation of these lost opportunities, sales people blamed price for the loss in more than 75% of the cases. In post-mortem interviews with clients, we heard a different story. Not only was price not the #1 reason customers chose an alternative solution, price didn’t even make the top three. Instead, customers provided other reasons for selecting alternative solutions, such as not being comfortable with the level of post-sales support, the lack of efficacy data for the product, the ease of use or training curve of implementing the new product, etc. The fact that price was rarely mentioned as a deciding factor came as a surprising to us. However, it was an even bigger surprise to the salespeople who had worked with these customers.
When we presented our finding to this company’s sales force, there was shock and some anger. Customers opted to go with an alternative solution because they felt the alternative solutions were better, not because it was cheaper. The reason this group of sales people were angry was because they felt their customers were wrong. In nearly every aspect, our customer’s solution set was superior to the competition. There were industry reports validating that this company’s products were more effective. There were customer references willing to verify the reliability and ease of use of our client’s solution. But the customers chose competitors because they believed the competitors’ solutions were a better match. So what really went wrong?
The sad truth for our client – and for many sellers on the losing side – is that there was little understanding of how the client was going to make a decision, who was going to involved in the decision, and which factors were going to be important when evaluating alternatives. What does one do in the absence of good information? One makes assumptions about what’s important and why. In the world of selling, one will approach clients by emphasizing strengths and product attributes that the seller believes are important. Sellers will act on history and anticipate issues and challenges that have presented themselves before. Sometimes the sales person will get lucky and hit his mark, but more often he will not. And while it might be better to be lucky than good, it makes for a pretty bad sales strategy.
So what is Important?
Consider the most recent major deals which ended up going south on you. Why did you lose them? If you think you lost on price, then you might want to reconsider, and this book can help you do that. Reading this book will help you evaluate how customers make decision – and will help you influence that decision more effectively. We know because this is what we have observed with our clients in our years of consulting with them.
Take your lost opportunity and ask yourself the following questions. Be honest in your assessment, don’t worry, your manager isn’t watching.
- What was the customer’s decision process?
- What concerned you most about the decision process? What did you do about it?
- What aspects of the customer’s decision process were you able to leverage in your favor?
- What did you do to leverage your Advocates throughout the decision process?
- What was said or done to make you believe your Advocate was really YOUR Advocate?
- Who were your Adversaries? What was your strategy to neutralize them?
- How did you leverage your Advocate to win over your Adversaries?
- What were the customer’s stated decision criteria?
- How did those criteria differ from Influencer to Influencer, from Advocate to Adversary?
- Of the key decision makers, whose criteria mattered most?
- What was your customer’s perception of your ability to meet their criteria as opposed to your competitor?
- Who were your competitors?
- What did the customer think of your competitors (besides obviously liking one of them better than you)?
- If you knew the answer to the previous question, how did you try to influence the customer’s thinking about those competitors?
This is just a sample of questions that you need to be able to answer about any sales opportunity. If answers to these questions are hard to come by for your opportunity, we are pretty sure this book will be useful to you. In fact, we’re certain it will be useful to you
Why should I read this book?
Books written about selling are legion. Why? Because books written about selling tend to sell well. This is true of books on selling skills and books on selling strategy. But of all the books written about selling over the years, very few are worth their cover price. So, you must be asking yourself: Why did I buy this one? We think the answer is simple. This book will give you fresh insights in how you approach your customers and will make you think and act differently when pursuing and opportunity. The lessons taught in this book will help you stretch your thinking and force you to look at your customers through a more strategic lens. In the end it’s about aligning your sales process to the customers buying process and ensuring you’re in front of the right people at the right time with the right message.
In our multiple decades of consulting on sales effectiveness, we have seen our clients achieve measurable performance improvement through the diligent application of these principles. These ideas work. And because these ideas work, we think reading this book will not only make you approach your opportunities in a different fashion than you might today, but it makes good economic sense because you’ll win more deals.
Steve Gielda is a managing partner with Ignite Selling, Inc., a leader in the development of custom developed sales simulation training solutions. Ignite is an organization dedicated to partnering with customers to implement highly customized performance change initiatives for building world-class sales teams. Steve has authored a number of articles focused on creating sales value, developing smart opportunity strategies, sales coaching, and new product launches. For the past 15 years he has engaged with nearly 50 of the Fortune 500 companies, working in such diverse industries as manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, IT and finance. His clients have recognized Steve for his emphasis on forging strong relationships built on client intimacy and his willingness to work diligently to help achieve business results.
Beginning in 1995, Steve joined Huthwaite, Inc, where he worked closely with Neil Rackham (author of SPIN® Selling and Rethinking the Sales Force) to create unique solutions for his clients. Before joining Huthwaite, Steve enjoyed a successful 10 year career with Lanier Worldwide. Steve rose through the ranks, holding positions of sales representative, District Manager, and Region Director of Lanier Professional Services.
Steve, his wife, Sherry, and his daughter Kayla reside in Clifton, VA.
Kevin Jones is a managing partner at Ignite Selling, Inc., a leader in the development of custom developed sales simulation training solutions.
For his entire professional career, Kevin has been a student and a teacher in the art of selling, learning from both his own experiences in direct sales as well as from the experts he has observed in the field. For the last 15 plus years, Kevin has been a Sales Improvement Consultant, taking his knowledge and insights to companies and sales people around the world. Kevin has worked with a variety of training solution providers focusing on sales skills, strategy development, negotiation, and sales management.
Kevin has personally helped develop the skills of thousands of sales people across the globe, and has developed training solutions for companies across a variety of industries. Today, Kevin is a driving force behind the development of Ignite Selling’s simulation-based training programs, and a leader in the firm’s deployment of high-impact client engagements. Kevin has an Undergraduate Degree from North Carolina State University and an MBA from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Kevin, his wife Donna, and his two daughters, Aidan and Poppy, currently reside in Asheville, NC.