Customer Experience News & Trends

The 5 best ways to sell against established relationships

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. 

Pitfalls to avoid

Before we start discussing how to sell against an established relationship, it’s important to go over three pitfalls to avoid when going up against an established relationship:

  1. Getting aggressive too quickly. This can backfire. It’s likely that an early competitive argument will paint you in a negative light.
  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.

Selling strategies

Don’t expect prospects to drop long-term suppliers and switch to you overnight.

These five strategies will help you during your siege:

  1. Build your own relationship. Different prospects have different expectations as to what a buyer-seller relationship means. But emphasizing professionalism and product knowledge always help jump-start a relationship.
  2. Find out the buyer’s motivation. 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 during those times. 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 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.

Demonstrate 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 just how much better you are.
  • Minor victories. 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 which competitors have a definite edge? Focus on the advantages you have to offset these disadvantages.

Adapted from: “Lessons From 100,000 Cold Calls,” by Stewart Rogers, a sales trainer.

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