The last couple of years have produced a number of challenges for those engaged in the B2B market. Some of the problems will be temporary – while others will become new permanent fixtures on the landscape. Let’s examine a scenario that highlights one that falls into the latter category.
You have been working with a new potential customer for several months. You have spent a lot of time in the account because it is a significant opportunity. You have talked with all the key players and you and the customer have a shared vision of the problem.
Several weeks ago you presented your solution and the feedback was extremely positive. Your internal champion told you after the session that your solution was not only responsive but also technically and operationally better than the competitors. You have had several subsequent conversations but the sale has absolutely stalled – nobody has given any signals about moving ahead.
While this dilemma is not new, it has occurred with more frequency over the last two years. This nightmare was well analyzed in an article by Bob Apollo. The author noted: “in today’s risk-averse environment when you are selling a major solution you need to conduct two sales: the first involves persuading the prospect that they cannot afford not to address the issue. The second sale involves persuading them that your solution offers the most effective approach to solving the problem. If you win the “second sale” without addressing the first, the most likely outcome is that you will get selected, but you won’t get bought.”
First Sale. The first sale is all about making the business case. It involves making a clear connection between the benefits of your solution and the measurable business outcomes that matter to the customer. It includes contrasting the risks associated with your solution versus the risk of doing nothing – the consequences of inaction. It compares the costs of your solution versus how you are equipping the customer to spend less or sell more.
Ask yourself – how many sales have you lost not to the competition but to the customer postponing a decision or deciding to do nothing because of budget or timing or for some set of unknown reasons? For most of us the answer is – more than we would like.
Second Sale. Let’s look at the second sale and assume unlike our scenario neither you nor your competitors have yet proposed a solution. So the challenge is to craft a solution that the customer judges to be the best among their alternatives.
So how do you that? How do you achieve a competitive edge? To achieve a competitive edge you have to understand your competitive strengths and weaknesses and understand your customer’s perception of that assessment. It is particularly important to keep in mind that your assessment and customer’s perception are often not in alignment – when that is the case that needs to be addressed. This requires having an informed answer to these questions:
- Who are the competitors that have a viable chance of winning the business?
- What are the decision criteria the customer will use to decide between the competition and you?
- How do you stack up on those criteria relative to the competition from the customer’s perspective?
- Why would the players engaged in the customer’s buying process buy from you instead of those competitors?
When answering these questions, think about your responses from two perspectives – your company and yourself. In some cases, a customer may buy from you because of the service you personally provide as their salesperson. We see this scenario often in the medical device market.
In other words, an answer to that fourth question is: the customer might buy from you instead of your competitor even if they don’t see much differentiation between products or price because you provide value by the way you sell, as well as, by what you sell. You are the competitive edge.
The nightmare of course is – winning the second sale and losing the first.
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