Customer Experience News & Trends

The No. 1 secret customers won’t share with you

There are seven words that strike fear into the heart of your salespeople.

They are: “I am happy with my present supplier.”

Some salespeople move on as soon as a prospect utters those words, accepting the idea that they can’t overcome a well-established relationship.

Relationships give competitors an unfair advantage. They simply provide competitors with far more access to prospects than other salespeople would have. From the outside, a well-established relationship can look invincible, but from the inside looking out, it may not look nearly as secure.

Here’s what prospects aren’t telling you:

“I’m not as satisfied with my present supplier as I tell salespeople who are after my business. Sometimes the easiest way to cut a meeting short with a new salesperson is to simply say, ‘I’m happy with the salesperson I’m dealing with.’ But it’s my job to always be on the lookout for a supplier who can give me a better deal. That’s another reason why my present suppliers shouldn’t get too confident in keeping my business.”

Not a marriage

A well-established relationship may seem like a marriage when a salesperson starts selling against it, but it isn’t. It’s a business relationship, based on business transactions.

Accept the challenge

After hearing, “I’m satisfied with my present supplier,” the best course of action is for salespeople to accept the challenge, realizing there are ways to overcome every sales objection. But they can’t just walk in and expect prospects to end a satisfactory relationship with another supplier.

Here are 10 strategies that will help:

  1. Don’t give up too quickly. A well-established relationship may take months to sell against. Try to avoid getting aggressive too quickly. Look for incremental victories, dig in for a long siege and keep on going. Examine the market and stay abreast of new issues, trends or changes that may help deliver more value than a prospect is now receiving.
  2. Do a prospect analysis. Learn as much as possible about what’s going on in the prospect’s world. Maybe his or her satisfaction is based on false information or unfamiliarity with what’s happening in the industry. Thoroughly understanding the competition allows salespeople to capitalize on their strengths, which may also be the competition’s weaknesses.
  3. Don’t count on relationships to get the business. Relying on relationships to propel sales can be dangerous today. Today’s good friend may be somewhere else tomorrow. The same conditions exist for competitors who rely on prospect loyalty to get them the business.
  4. Measure the relationship being sold against. Every business relationship goes through ups and downs. Even the tightest relationships are tested when things go wrong. Salespeople who refuse to accept the “satisfied prospect objection,” will be in a position to get the business when problems develop. A counter-proposal always looks much better after a competitor has made a mistake.
  5. Build a relationship. Different prospects have different expectations as to what a buyer-seller relationship might mean. What is making them happy today may not do so tomorrow. The best way to encourage prospects to do business is to get in front of them frequently, no matter how much they express love for their present supplier.
  6. Ask for objectivity. Acknowledge the fact that a prospect has a relationship with a competitor. Then appeal to his or her sense of fairness by at least looking objectively at a competitive proposal.
  7. Watch for turnover. Sales based on relationships are the most volatile of all when conditions change. If a prospect retires or transfers to goes to a different job, be ready to move in quickly and establish a relationship with the successor.
  8. Recognize that there are prospects who are never going to buy. The reason may be as simple as the fact that the prospect’s sister sells for a competitor. No matter how great a competitive proposal may be, a blood relationship usually trumps reason and logic. But a salesperson will never know about the situation until the right questions are asked.
  9. Don’t overlook the value of a “small” order. If a salesperson’s been calling on an account time and again but a competitor has a lock on the business, he or she should keep trying for even a small order. It gives the salesperson visibility with the prospect that may lead to a profitable relationship.
  10. Focus on results. If a salesperson wants to replace a long-term competitor, he or she should try to focus on results. This can be done consistently focusing on solving the highest-level business problems of prospects. No product or service is excellent in and of itself. It’s excellent only if it fulfills a prospect’s needs. Understand the prospect’s problems and develop solutions. No established sales relationship will stand up to that kind of sales approach.

Keep them ‘active’

Some salespeople put prospects in the “inactive” file after being told that a competitor has the business locked up.

Here are six reasons why it’s important for salespeople to pursue prospects who say they’re satisfied with their present suppliers:

  1. They are loyal.
  2. They don’t make quick changes.
  3. They respect salespeople who call on them.
  4. They appreciate the benefits of continuing relationships.
  5. They know they can count on the salesperson to come through in an emergency.
  6. They are usually quality prospects.

Selling the satisfied prospect is a process. It’s a matter of turning the tables and establishing all the right conditions so that the business becomes available. The best technique is to attempt to always be in the right place at the right time. But not knowing where or when that will be, salespeople are challenged to create a program that keeps them in the mind of “satisfied” prospects.

Pursuing satisfied prospects

The first step is to make a list of all prospects who claim to be happy with their present suppliers. Try to update the list frequently so there are always candidates to pursue on a regular basis.

Here are important points to keep in mind about this type of prospect:

  • Satisfied prospects don’t make abrupt or dramatic changes.
  • They’re not seduced by simple price ploys.
  • They know the strategy of taking a loss to get the business and then increasing prices.

The key is learning how the prospect thinks and what the prospect wants to accomplish. The heart of selling satisfied prospects is establishing a bond based on compatible ideas.

The strength of the bond depends on the depth of the prospect’s belief in what they are being told. Once the bond of trust has been built, the prospect will usually become a customer.

Exploit competitive weaknesses

Exploiting competitive weaknesses is a key to successfully displacing an embedded supplier.  Start with the competitor’s salespeople. Are they skilled, experienced salespeople or are they inexperienced or suffering from attitude problems?

Prospects don’t like to deal with incompetents or salespeople who take them for granted. Look for any gaps in the competitor’s sales approach or product lines. What are the major strengths and weaknesses of your competition? How do their strengths and weaknesses compare with the new offering?

Common sources of this vital info include:

  • Competitors’ websites.
  • Financial disclosures and reports of public companies.
  • Press releases, new product releases and advertising copy.
  • Suppliers who are willing to share information about a mutual competitor.
  • Trade shows and conferences.

Don’t overestimate or underestimate the competition

Some salespeople look at competitors as super powers, especially when they’re market leaders. They forget that even the best companies make mistakes or are susceptible to an innovative competitor.

While it’s a mistake to overestimate the competition, it can be equally dangers to underestimate them. Salespeople who underestimate the competition start to take their prospects for granted. And they forget that competitors are pursuing their prospects actively, too.

Three keys to the sale

Rather than attempting to sell a product or service, salespeople should sell three key components — themselves, their knowledge and their company. Over time, their prospect will slowly develop a feeling for the salesperson’s commitment, manner of doing business and credibility.

The shaping of this image is their investment in the prospect. Throughout the process, they’re deliberately and carefully separating themselves from the competition. No one knows when the satisfied prospect will emerge into a live prospect. But the time will come. At some point, there will be an opportunity; something will go wrong, a problem will arise or a new need will surface. There will be an emergency. That’s when satisfied prospects come looking for a new salesperson.

A steady flow of prospects

The goal of approaching satisfied prospects is to create a steady flow of prospects. To create steady growth and to avoid the traditional ups and downs in sales, it’s a good idea to make the effort to identify satisfied prospects and then implement a process for establishing the conditions so that those prospects eventually become customers.

Satisfied vs. dissatisfied

Some salespeople think the fastest way to open new accounts is to identify their competitors’ dissatisfied prospects and make them happy.

The problem is, dissatisfied prospects usually create more problems than satisfied prospects. Let the smallest thing go wrong and they look for a new vendor. Some are demanding and threatening and never show appreciation.

A better choice is a well-planned satisfied prospect development program that may generate high-quality business on a continuing basis.

Switching costs

How difficult is it for the prospect to end a relationship with a long-term supplier and switch to a new supplier? Prospects who have made significant investments in people, time, processes or technology to use current products or services have high switching costs. Those who have no such investments have relatively low switching costs.

Get in the prospect’s head

To sell prospects with long-term relationships, it’s essential to get in the prospect’s head before getting through the prospect’s door. Rather than hitting the prospect head-on, the strategy should be to create an awareness of the new product or service.

It’s usually a good idea for salespeople to let the prospect know they’re aware of the current supplier relationship. And they may be able to gain the prospect’s interest simply by suggesting they’re in a position to supply something that isn’t currently being offered.

Three pitfalls to avoid

Here are three pitfalls to avoid when selling against established relationships:

  1. Getting aggressive too quickly. It’s likely that any competitive argument put forward will be reviewed by the prospect and the current supplier.
  2. Chasing every trivial objection. Selling this kind of prospect is less about answering objections and more about making the prospect feel comfortable about a possible change.
  3. Giving up to easily. A well-established relationship takes months, if not years, to sell against. Look for incremental victories, dig in for a long siege and keep at it.

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