Selling Your Price: Sell the Right Value to the Right People – It’s not what you sell, it’s how.
Selling Your Price: How to escape the race to the bargain basement
Selling the Right Value to the Right People – It’s not what you sell, it’s how.
Christine leaned back in her chair and gazed out the office window, collecting her thoughts.
“Let me see if I understand your strategy,” she said. “You have identified a customer need, which is to cut consumable costs. The customer is now trying to do that by viewing products as commodities and shopping for the lowest price on each individual item. This forces you to discount those items, which undercuts your margins and leads to a vicious circle of more discounting. You think that this kind of price shopping is self-defeating for the customer, too, because it’s an inefficient way to manage costs. So you want to go back to Dr. Wright’s office and propose some meetings with Susan and the other buyers to discuss a long-term solution for managing overall acquisition costs. Am I right so far?”
“Right,” Scott said.
“OK. Now, you think the answer to both of these problems — the customer’s product-cost issue and your margin issue — lies in our frequent-buyer program, Partner Plus. If you can uncover needs that Partner Plus would address, you figure you could differentiate yourself from your competitors. Dr. Wright and his staff would stop seeing you as a commodity peddler and begin to view you as a consultant with a purpose, the purpose being to contribute to their business strategy. Still right?”
“Well then, I see one little flaw in that reasoning,” Christine said. Time to rock your world again, Scott. “At the risk of violating my own rule about the word ‘commodity,’ it seems to me that our Partner Plus program is just as much a commodity as a bottle of surface disinfectant.”
Scott was stunned. What did she just say? I can’t have heard that right. Finally he settled for: “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t most of our major competitors have frequent-buyer programs?” Christine asked. “And don’t they all operate pretty much the same way as Partner Plus? Aren’t their sales reps going to be talking to Dr. Wright about those programs — if they haven’t already? Won’t those reps try to explain how their programs can cut total acquisition costs because of features very similar to the ones Partner Plus offers: consolidated product shipments, better inventory control, and so on?”
Scott felt as if he’d been run over by a truck. “I don’t know what to say,” he confessed. “I thought I’d seen the light. This is just another tunnel.”
“The product really doesn’t matter. It isn’t what you sell — it’s how you sell.”
“No, but it is just another product,” Christine replied. “Scott, you’re almost there. You almost get it. But what I want you to understand is that the product really doesn’t matter. Is it something simple, like dental floss or surface disinfectant? Something more complicated, like a new way to organize and run a company’s purchasing process? It doesn’t make much difference, because whatever the product or service is, chances are your competitors can offer something awfully similar, if not identical. Heck, if we do come up with a unique feature, they’ll copy it in a week.
“Honestly, truly, and for real, Scott, it isn’t what you sell that counts — it’s how you sell,” she continued, blazing with conviction as if she wanted to open his skull and force the words inside. “Every competitor you’ve got wants to find a need for his product and then sell to that need. What counts is the process of walking arm in arm with a customer, step by step toward the best solution to their problem. In the end, that’s the only thing that counts. Why do you think Action Selling devotes three Acts to salespeople selling themselves? The salesperson who does that best is the one who wins, period. The
execution of that process is what differentiates top salespeople from the rest. It’s the only reason anybody will ever see you as a consultant with a purpose and not as some guy who sells commodities.”
Scott took a while to digest this. Finally he smiled. “Partner Plus isn’t a commodity, and neither is surface disinfectant,” he told her. “Because there’s no such thing as a commodity.”
“You bet your butt there’s not,” she replied, smiling back. Ta-da! I think he’s got it.
- Selling Strengths
- Predict Needs
- Ask Questions
“Now, getting back to Doc Wright,” Christine said, “I believe we established that you have three types of buyers at his office — a specialist, some users, and an ultimate decision maker. You think you have a total
acquisition solution to their overall consumable-cost problem — something that would suit their needs better than item-by-item price shopping. You want to walk arm in arm with them in a discovery process to investigate those needs and see if you’re right. You said that Action Selling recommends a process called Back-Tracking Benefits?”
“Right,” Scott said. “Starting with my selling strengths — the best features of my product — I predict needs that would be satisfied by those strengths, then ask questions to draw out the needs.”
“We talked about the kinds of benefits the different buyer types are likely to care about,” Christine said. “Suppose we tie those together with the features of Partner Plus and see what we come up with.”
What they came up with was this outline:
“All right,” Christine said, “now you have a map that shows generally where you’re trying to go. What does Action Selling recommend as the next step?”
“I need some good questions to ask each buyer type when I meet with them individually to analyze their needs,” Scott said. “I want to ask questions that let me and the buyers understand exactly how
something like improved order processing might increase job satisfaction for the specialist buyer — Susan — and the user buyers. And maybe Dr. Wright cares more about inventory management than he does about a feature like order processing. I need to know that so I’ll understand what to stress in my final proposal.”
“Do you suppose you and I can come up with all the questions you’ll need to ask right now?” Christine asked innocently.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Scott grinned. “Naturally, new questions will occur to me as I talk to these people because I’ll be listening,” (He looked at Christine sheepishly.) “But I need a starting point, as well as some questions I want to be sure to ask.”
“Back to the drawing board?”
“Yeah, let’s do that,” Scott said.
They produced a list of questions for each of the three buyer types. The lists looked like this:
“These seem like pretty good questions,” Christine said when they were finished. “Now what are you going to do with them?”
“I’m calling on Dr. Wright’s office again this Thursday,” Scott said. “I’ll tell Susan I’ve been thinking about her problem with product costs, and I may be able to help. I’ll ask for 15 minutes of her time to discuss it. Those ‘specialist’ questions are my outline for Act 3 of Action Selling. If I execute the conversation well, she and I should get to Act 4, where we agree on some important needs. She’ll begin to see the potential advantages of looking at acquisition costs from a broader perspective. I think she’ll agree to help me schedule the meetings with Dr. Wright and the user buyers. She’ll be working with me on this as an ally.”
“I’ll be ‘selling myself’ as a consultant with a purpose during my needs-analysis meetings.”
“So your meetings with Dr. Wright and the user buyers will probably happen in another call,” Christine said. “And you’ll agree on needs with them, too?”
“Right,” Scott said. “All of that represents Acts 3 and 4 of Action Selling. I’ll be ‘selling myself’ as a consultant with a purpose during my needs-analysis meetings with each of the three buyer types. The specific needs we agree upon will show me the best way to sell my company and my product during Acts 5 and 6 at the final proposal meeting with all of the buyers. But before I have that meeting I want to preview the proposal with Susan to make doubly sure that it hits the right targets.”
“I like that idea a lot,” Christine said. She stood up and looked him in the eye. “Well, Scott, I think you’re ready to make a professional sales call.”
Scott rose too, but made no move to leave. He seemed to be groping for words. Finally he said, “This was all there in the original Action Selling training program, wasn’t it. Everything you’ve told me about how to escape the price trap was right in front of my eyes. But even though I thought Action Selling was a great system, I didn’t see it for what it really is. I can’t believe I walked in here and told you I needed a course on negotiating skills.”
Christine started to wave the apology aside.
“No,” Scott said, holding up his hand. “I guess what I want to say is just…thanks.”
Christine smiled. “Go be a consultant with a purpose,” she said. “Let me know what happens.”