Customer Experience News & Trends

Your advantage in a weak economy — if you play your cards right

A well-established relationship can look invincible, but it may not be as secure as it appears, especially during difficult times. Customers are more accessible and open to listening to competitive proposals when the economy is weak.

Here are three pitfalls to avoid when going up against an established relationship:

  1. Getting aggressive too quickly can backfire. It’s likely that any competitive argument you put forward will be reviewed by the prospect and the supplier you’re selling against.
  2. Chasing every trivial objection. Selling this kind of account is less about answering objections and more about making the prospect feel comfortable doing business with you.
  3. Giving up too easily. A well-established relationship takes time and patience to crack. Look for incremental victories, dig in for a long siege and keep at it.

Five selling strategies

Don’t expect prospects to drop long-term suppliers and switch to you overnight. These five tips can help:

  1. Build your own relationship. Different prospects have different expectations as to what a buyer-seller relationship means. Emphasizing professionalism and product knowledge helps get this kind of relationship started.
  2. Ask yourself whether the prospect is ambitious and looking for a relationship to help him or her get ahead. If you understand what motivation the prospect has for considering a new supplier, you may close that much quicker.
  3. Monitor the relationship you’re selling against. Every business relationship goes through ups and downs. Even the tightest relationships are tested when things go wrong. If you know what the weak times are, ratchet up your activities. A counter-proposal always looks much better after the incumbent competitor has botched a job.
  4. Sell objectivity. Acknowledge that the prospect has a relationship with a competitor, and then ask him or her to look objectively at your proposal.
  5. Watch for the backlash of turnover. Sales based on relationships are the most volatile of all. If a competitor has established a relationship with a customer who’s retiring or moving to another company, the relationship leaves with him or her. This is the time to get an appointment with the successor.

Demonstrating credibility

It’s not enough to tell prospects you offer better service or quality than your competitor. Prospects want to hear specifics about why you’re better.

Here’s a formula that helps show the difference more effectively:

  • Unique qualities. What can you offer that your competitor can’t? Try to convert the value of your products or services into financial results.
  • Advantages. What do you do better than the competitor? Give prospects what they need to understand the unique qualities of your product or service.
  • Parity. If there’s little difference between you and a competitor, look for minor ones that may add up to a competitive advantage.
  • Disadvantages. Are there areas in your product or service in which competitors have a definite edge? Focus on the advantages you do have to offset these disadvantages.

Adapted from Lessons From 100,000 Cold Calls (Sourcebook, Naperville, IL) by Stewart Rogers. Mr. Rogers is a sales trainer and author.

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