Observations and Insights on Selling

The SalesPractice blog offers weekly observations and insights for sales practitioners pursuing the highest levels of performance in personal selling.

This Week's Post:

The Real Competition

Gary Boye

Selling is a people business. I frequently say that probably because I think it needs to be said, if only as a reminder. However, it is not an absolute truth. In a pure sense I interpret the essence of the statement to mean that selling at its highest level of practice is a people business. Those who engage at that level would never need clarification. Those that don't have often been guided, or misguided, into other points of focus and often become entrenched there.

Mountains, wildlife, seascapes, flowers, etc. are often wondrous parts of this planet that make life worth living and observing. But people--that's what we ARE. I want to share my belief that a life worth living is one where we interact with others in contributing and rewarding ways. There is no reason to isolate our career in sales from that belief. Who we are, and, what we do for a living is not the same thing. We are not a separate species because we sell to put food on the table. When you entertain that notion, you will never achieve sales mastery or its rewards.

Early on in these pages, you were introduced to the first of four Applied Understandings that will drive your sales engine. You learned the following:

Every potential customer you meet is comparing the experience they have with you to the experiences they have with others. Your success in selling comes from making the other experiences pale by comparison

To fully grasp the meaning of this tenet, it is crucial to embrace a topic that is too often ignored in conventional sales training as it applies to personal selling. I'm referring to the topic of competition, or, to put it more accurately, the activity of competing.

Does that disturb you? If it does, is it because you have been given the notion that you have to have a "competitive nature" in order to compete? Do you associate that term with type A personalities who have to always stand out among the rest? Does it create mental and distasteful images of the manner of individuals whose attention is always on them?

Relax. I can't stand them for very long either. All I ask is that you understand the following three points regarding competition:

  • Competition is always present.
  • You are always being compared with the competition.
  • You win sales against your competition by exceeding expectations.

To know one's competition is a precept of strategy. You have probably heard or read that before. Of course, that's sound advice. It's natural and routine to associate the word "competition" with the direct competition we face in business as in Pepsi versus Coke, Avis versus Hertz, and Your Company versus Her Company. However, by viewing the competition with such a narrow scope, we commit a strategic error. The fact is:

We compete with our prospective buyers' everyday experiences more than we compete against our direct trade competition.

Think about that. All of us live daily in a stream of experiences that are pleasing or displeasing, fulfilling or unfulfilling, mundane or extraordinary, tedious or fun.

If we are competing against a prospect's everyday experiences, will you agree that it constitutes a much broader range than the direct competition you normally would associate with this topic? I'm referring to those individuals or companies that you refer to as "my competition."

Is your direct competition important? Of course it is. Acquiring knowledge of your direct competition is a crucial part of your job. That responsibility is closely related to, and, works hand in hand with product knowledge. Such knowledge allows you to establish a unique selling proposition, an identifiable difference. It falls under the heading of preparedness, and, of course, you are now learning that preparedness is the most important skill in selling.

As you read this, there's a good chance that somewhere out there are some individuals who are contemplating buying jet airplanes for their companies. There are, of course, men and women who sell jet airplanes for a living. Assuming the airplane buyers live on the same planet we do, there is a very good chance that some of them have experienced the same kind of happenings that we encounter. Let's take a look at what some of those experiences might be. Of course, I don't buy or sell airplanes, and, I don't have a close relationship with anybody that does. However, I can personally attest to the authenticity of the following. Do these experiences ring your bell?

The jet airplane sales practitioner competes with:

  • The much desired package which arrives late.
  • The restaurant owner who insists on charging for an extra slice of tomato.
  • The clerks who now say "There you go" instead of "Thank you" or say "No problem." Instead of "You're welcome." when we thank them.
  • The eye doctor who keeps you waiting too long in the waiting room.
  • The salesperson that makes every call an intrusion.
  • People who do not listen.
  • Vendors who don't get back on time with a quotation.
  • People who don't return phone calls.
  • People who forget to keep their promises.

Such is life. You get the idea. Those are examples of individuals and companies that are slowly chipping away at the expectations of the general population. Obviously it's easy to provide a better experience for people you come across in your daily activities, albeit those that would become your prospective buyers. However, there are loads of people in this world who expect greater things of themselves. And--they are your competition too. They have not let the expectations of others effect their belief in themselves, or, their focus on presenting their own being in the best possible light. They do it through their actions. In the sales profession, they are the elite competition. They show up on time, make and keep promises, and, follow up with a passion. They not only listen, they hear. They not only hear, they demonstrate that they have heard. They never call without a purpose. They are caring, courteous, empathetic, and seek conditions of mutual trust and respect with prospective buyers. And, more often than not, they achieve those conditions. Intentions are powerful.

We coined the term, "Bar of Expectations", in our workshops. The term's use is two-fold. The general buying public has expectations that have been influenced by the good, bad, and indifferent experiences they have had with those whose job it is to serve them. The superior sales warrior practices her craft above her prospects' and clients' Bar of Expectations. She has set her very own, very high, level.

In the open forum days of SalesPractice.com, we had the opportunity to observe the attitudes, dispositions, and reasoning of thousands of sales practitioners from a wide range of industries. Some were new to their field. Many had been in sales for decades. Based on those studies, we were able to construct a matrix which we concluded to be reflective of the paradigms of the common and the extraordinary in sales.

At first glance, the differences might seem very subtle. It is my intention that throughout these pages, the disparity between the common and the extraordinary will become increasingly clear. I invite you to study the chart below and refer to it as we move along in these studies. From this day on, there is only one place to see you. You are reading this material because you're serious. You belong in the right hand column.

Two Paradigms of Sales Practitioners

The Common The Extraordinary
I have to get better at what I'm doing. I have to understand the nature of what I'm doing.
I have to achieve. I have to accomplish.
I have to prepare for the unexpected. I have to prepare for the expected.
I have to react. I have to create.
I'm thinking too small. I have to think big. I see the big picture. I do the little things that matter.
I will assume the sale. I will intend the sale.
I want the buyer to make a favorable decision. I want the buyer to justify a favorable decision.
I see selling as a game of persuasion. I see selling as a practice of influence and facilitation.
I need to make contacts. I want to build rapport. I want to enter the lives of others. I seek conditions of mutual trust and respect.
I know how to sell. I know why people buy.