Suppose a potential client asks you for information or requests that you respond to an RFP. Maybe this person is close to purchasing from your business, but it's possible that he already has a preferred vendor in mind -- your competition -- and is only contacting you to make sure he's getting the right price.
Research shows that decision-makers tend to grab the first solution that is presented to them. Any subsequent outreach on their part could just be to make sure they're getting the best vendor and rate, rather than an attempt to find an alternative solution.
As a small business owner, what can you do to impact a client who's already made a decision?
1. Always ask what steps that they've taken.
Always ask a client what steps he's taken in the buying process. Ask what issues he's trying to solve and what caused these issues to occur.
2. Look for signs that a decision has been made.
Salespeople tend to be very optimistic. When a customer calls, it's natural to be excited about the opportunity, but keep your eyes open for signs that your potential client isn't as interested as he seems.
A customer who is truly interested in your company will be open to working with you. A customer who has secretly made a decision and is just looking for a competitive bid will likely do one or more of the following:
- Be unwilling or reluctant to schedule a meeting.
- Be reluctant to share inside information.
- Use a competitor's terminology or language.
- Push to get you to submit a proposal very quickly so they can meet self-imposed and arbitrarily short deadline, one not driven by any impending business event.
- Not read the information that you send.
- Show signs of impatience if you call to get more background information.
- Be slow to respond to a request for information, or say they aren't providing extra information to any vendors.
3. Run a reverse play
If you see any of these signs, recognize that your odds of winning aren't good. They've likely dealt with your competitors (even if they won't say so) and have possibly chosen a vendor.
Rather than give up and move on, though, you can try to run a reverse play: get the opposition to think you're going off in one direction, only to switch direction abruptly.
In sales, running a reverse play means getting the customer to believe that you're following along with his idea of a solution (likely shaped by a competitor), and then skillfully getting him to suddenly change direction, or change his vision of the solution.
Suppose you're selling corporate jets. You work for Brand A, which has a higher price than Brands B or C. If a customer sees each of the options as equal except for your higher price (because he doesn't recognize your other strengths), then you need to develop a new plan of action.
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Maybe you have a unique feature to offer, like the ability for a customer to purchase a share in multiple jets from your company. On short notice, your company can send a client whichever size jet he needs.
In doing this, the competitive situation is completely reversed. Why should the customer spend money on a jet from Brand B or C, plus costs for insurance, fuel, pilots and catering, when he could have access to a fleet of jets for a fraction of the up-front costs if he uses your brand?
A reverse play can get the customer to add new criteria and/or shift the importance of existing criteria for the solution. Your brand's strategy, for example, might lead the customer to think that "jet ownership" is a lower priority than having a share in the variety of the jets that your company offers.
There are two ways to get the customer to change priorities:
1. Get your customer to envision better results with your solution.
Consider the existing customers who have implemented your solution in new and different ways. What are these customers doing with your services that is different?
Make a list of a few unique solutions that you've delivered for clients. What specific differences does your company have, or could have, and how can you make these differences important to your buyer?
2. Get your customer to think about additional needs.
You want customers to define their needs for you upfront. As part of a reverse play, plant the seeds for additional needs that you already have solutions for. For example, say, "Other customers have mentioned having an issue with _____. Is that something that's important for your company?"
Add the Reverse to Your Playbook
A colleague recently asked me how often I use the reverse play. When I thought about it, I realized that I use a reverse strategy almost every time I'm not the first business in the door. By coming into the process late, I have to assume that my competitors have already set requirements for the customer's solution. The only way I can beat the competition is to expose the customer to alternative solutions.
Kevin Davis, author of Slow Down, Sell Faster!: Understand Your Customer's Buying Process and Maximize Your Sales, is president of TopLine Leadership, Inc., a leading sales and sales management training company serving clients from diverse sectors. For more information, please visit slowdownsellfaster.com
Image credit: Cedric