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Who is Your Greatest Competitor?

Throughout the history of selling, sales professionals have faced worthy adversaries competing with for the same highly-coveted piece of business. Some salespeople point to the large multi-national company, with deep pockets and seemingly endless resource, as their most difficult adversary. Others identify a small boutique firm, the one that somehow always manages to sneak under the radar and call on their best customers, as their staunchest foe.

In reality, the most formidable competitor that has haunted people for decades is an invisible competitor: the unseen attitude of the customer indifference. An old saying warns “You can’t fight what you can’t see,” which is why it is important to uncover this daunting foe before it delivers a knockout punch to your selling opportunity.

What makes indifference such a challenging competitor? Psychologically, indifference is rooted in our belief system. It is an endemic attitude or viewpoint held by your customers, one that you must change in order to close sales. While you may be able to compete for head-on against the visible products of your toughest competitor, the balance of power shifts when you’re forced to compete against the human mind.

Indifference is not based on logic but lies embedded in your client’s perception. Many factors contribute to client indifference, including

  • Familiarity with an existing product
  • False satisfaction with a competitor’s product
  • Failure of the buyer to notice additional needs
  • Failure to recognize the unique benefits of your product or service.

However the most prevalent factor by far is simple complacency, as in the familiar refrain, “But that’s what we’ve always bought.” Indifference comes from the client’s opinion that what you are selling is a commodity with relatively no distinction or value over their existing product or service.

How does the successful salesperson confront the competition of indifference? By attacking the issue strategically, armed with a thorough evaluation of potential client’s current business practices. Indifference is overcome when the salesperson maps out a plan to resolve a costumer’s hidden frustrations by uncovering previously unidentified needs. When approaching indifference, the sales professionals must understand the psychological considerations tied to changing an attitude, because the client needs to be motivated to change.

Adopt a Questioning Strategy

To combat indifference, first acknowledge that it affects the customer, then get their permission to ask probing questions that increase your understanding of their specific needs. By adopting a questioning strategy, you help the customer gain an awareness of the needs and problems your products can solve. Probing questions permit you to explore problems that may have been lying dormant or hidden, buried for years by the initial adoption of poor business practices. They also allow you to understand the customer’s core business, including any new business strategies the client is planning. Most importantly, they allow you to define the competitive pressures within a market niche or segment, with the goal of helping the customer recognize problems or needs of which he was unaware.

A questioning strategy designed to overcome indifference allows you to identify other suppliers currently doing business with your prospective customer. By evaluating how satisfied the customers are with this suppliers, you uncover business needs he would like to improve. Additionally, strategic questioning provides an opportunity to investigate the customer’s strategies and goals, allowing you to align your product or service with the achievement of those business objectives. Once a customer’s objectives are in the open, you can determine how your product can assist in meeting them.

Effective probing that links questioning and strategy allows you to become consultative in your selling approach while focusing on the customer’s basic needs. Probing also allows you to gain insight into how your customer is position in the market. Then you can evaluate how effectively he is competing, identify his main competitors, and determine whether is gaining or losing market share respective to the specific products and segments served.

Making the customer aware of his satisfaction or dissatisfaction shows the consequences of the leaving things unchanged, promoting the need to change. When your questions are carefully crafted by your understanding of his business, the customer sees the immediate cost of not acting in a timely manner. This helps break down the indifference barrier. Learning to recognize indifference and applying appropriate strategies to combat it advances the sale, leading to greater sales success. Sometimes you can overcome indifference immediately, but in most cases, conquering customer indifference requires a long-term commitment. To combat indifference, your questions must enable both parties to gain an understanding of the prospect’s needs and drive a business solution.

For example:

  • How do you feel the results you’re getting now?
  • Are you on track to achieve your one- and five-year goals?
  • Are there any competitors in the market impeding your growth plans? How does that affect your business operations/sales? What impact is that having on new client acquisition? Customer retention? Product quality? Productivity? Cash flow?

Keep in mind that an effective questioning strategy involves more than just asking open and closed-ended questions. It needs to include questions designed to capture account information, help the customers recognize problems, and more importantly, understanding what the problems will cost if not addressed. It should also include questions which help the customer to recognize that your product is the right solution, one that will drive results to reach his business goals. Indifference is a formidable psychological competitor in the attitudes of our customers. But with the right questioning approach, you can turn customer indifference into customer enthusiasm for your product, service or solution.

Source: Joe Heller

December 19, 2018

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