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Interesting Sales Question

I have a question and would just like to see the responses it might produce. Imagine that you're a widget salesperson. After doing some preliminary work you realize that while your widget is good and would adequately fulfill the prospect's needs, your competitor's version of the widget is better and would even better fit the prospect's needs. You're in front the of the prospect now. What do you say to him? - by The Sales Artist
I have a question and would just like to see the responses it might produce. Imagine that you're a widget salesperson. After doing some preliminary work you realize that while your widget is good and would adequately fulfill the prospect's needs, your competitor's version of the widget is better and would even better fit the prospect's needs. You're in front the of the prospect now. What do you say to him?
I would certainly discuss my widget's Unique Selling Proposition.

If the manufacturer of the widget has not created an USP, either on the product, the offer, or the service, then they need to go back to the drawing board. - by Ace Coldiron
Why bother unless the client brings it up. If you are not passionate about your product, your company or your industry it is not worth it for you to pretend. The best selling professionals are passionate about what they do, what they sell and who they are. You must be comfortable in your own skin.


Drew Stevens
Americas Sales Coach - by Drew Stevens
Since the customer, not the salesperson, has the role of deciding which product solution is better for his needs, I would recommend continuing the selling process. It doesn't matter what you think, it matters what the customer thinks.

Customers buy and don't buy for many varying and complex reasons, some directly related to product fit, and some not. For instance, what if the prospect doesn't like the salesperson who's selling the other product? What if the prospect had a problem with the manufacturer of that product in the past and is reluctant to give them new business because of it?

Salespeople need to understand the full range of buying criteria, not just the obvious ones, when working with a potential customer. And they must let the customer decide what to buy, not make that decision for the customer. Customers have free will and a unique perspective. - by Skip Anderson
Why bother unless the client brings it up. If you are not passionate about your product, your company or your industry it is not worth it for you to pretend. The best selling professionals are passionate about what they do, what they sell and who they are. You must be comfortable in your own skin.
um... define "passionate". I agree that one should love the business of selling. But practical experience has taught me that one does not have to dream at night of one's product to successfully sell it. The practical realities of life require many (most) to sell a product they may believe to be good, but probably not something they absolutely love. A person can be a pool salesman, for example, without being particularly passionate about pools.

Granted, in a perfect world everyone would love their product, company and customers. It would certainly increase the level of emotional happiness. But that is an unrealistic expectation. It is a reality of life that many salespeople must sell products and services they may believe to be good, but aren't overly-passionate about. People do have to pay the bills and support their family.

Does that mean they can't be successful selling a product they aren't passionate about? I don't buy that. The art of sales and principles of persuasion are the same no matter what the product or the price. If one is "passionate" about the sales process, the experience, etc., then one can successfully sell any product or service. And with some success and luck, maybe they will be able to secure that magical job position with the perfect company selling the perfect product.

Please don't misunderstand the intent of my post. While you describe a sales situation every salesperson should strive to achieve, it just comes across that success is more dependent on motivation than skill. And I don't believe that to be true. Motivation is an emotional state that fluctuates, can be influenced and can be created. Motivation is not continually sustainable at extreme levels. Skill, however, is something that can be learned, practiced, honed, sharpened and performed with equal expertise in various motivational states. I am far more of an advocate of teaching the skill over motivation. Learn how to close sales and then your performance will provide the foundation for motivation.

But that's just me... - by The Sales Artist
No need to "inform" your prospect of other products out there - hopefully they're doing that on their own (if they're not, I wonder how close you are to closing the deal).

At the same time, if they bring up a product/supplier that really does meet their needs better than you can, you have two choices as far as I can see them:

1. Fight, kicking and screaming.

2. Tell them you want what's best for them and that if they can really meet their needs better elsewhere, they should (you should also know how you're different - price isn't everything and the better you can articulate how your better/bring different value, the more capable you'll be to keep the business). You know everyone's needs and products fluctuate and you hope that when things change for them or if the other supplier doesn't follow through as they said they would, you can re-open discussions with them.

The fact of the matter is, if there's a better product out there that meets their interests better than yours, they're going whether you like it or not. Since you never know what's going to happen in the long run, always keep your doors open and show your commitment to customer satisfaction(even if it's a commitment you begrudge at the moment).

While this may not be great for your immediate revenue stream, this approach, over time, will help your reputation and your business. As one prospect falls out of your pipeline, an old one will reemerge due to the failed business practices/promises of your competitors.

Stephen - by sfrenkel
I agree with what some of the others have said about being passionate about your product. I also think that having the best solution involves more than just the product--what about implementation, delivery, customer support, etc?

Overall, it really comes down to finding out how your prospect will evaluate the solution, and what's important to him. Your competitor's product may be superior in many areas, but if yours is better in a critical area that is most important to the prospect, then you could have the better solution in his eyes.

Before you second-guess your product, be sure to ask the right questions to understand the prospect's perception and buying process: What is he trying to accomplish, and why? What is important to him after the sale? And What criteria is his decision going to be based on? - by Jake Atwood
Anyone who has been in B2B sales as long as I have comes to understand that, on any given day, there's always someone cheaper, faster, bigger, or whatever. The role of a SR is to understand the suspect's business needs.

If during that discovery process, the SR's offering becomes a "fit", then, a close is the logical conclusion. FULL STOP. It is not our role to inform the prospect of what else is out there.

I must admit - once again - that this philosophical review of our place in the bigger picture gets lost in the reality of how we are paid. It seems to me that if we make the conscious decision to be a SR for company 'X', we can assume from the get-go that someone else's offering is better in some instances. BUT that shouldn't cloud our thinking. We've got a number to hit and a patch to do it in: see you in December!

If you're going to second guess every single sale at such a philosophical level ... you're in the wrong job!

Good luck & Good selling!
Pat - by OUTSource Sales
If you're going to second guess every single sale at such a philosophical level ... you're in the wrong job!

Good luck & Good selling!
Pat
Pat, by "such a philosophical level" do you mean degree of inquiry, or do you mean a specific philosophy which you believe is counterproductive, and thus makes you "in the wrong job"?

In other words, are you saying that we should not go too deep into the nature of our work, or are you saying that a specific philosophy is dangerous? If it's the latter, how would you state that single philosophy that we might access in second guessing?

The reason I ask you, is that, having read some of your posts, you yourself appear to examine the nature of selling at a rather deep level. How would your examinations differ from those of others? - by Ace Coldiron
I'm going to take a slightly different approach to the answers so far.

In many circumstances I would recommend a competitor's product.

In particular, if my "widget" was something like what I actually do sell - my own consulting services - then the strategy can pay off.

On a small number of occasions I have been in the situation where my clients have asked me if I can provide certain services for them - and on reflection I have realised that there is a "competitor" who can do so better than I can.

I put quotation marks around competitor because in my field we all have different niches - but ones that overlap. A good example is networking skills. If that's exactly and only what a client wants there are some very good networking experts locally who can do a better job than I can in training clients in networking.

If they want a bespoke programme linked in to other aspects of sales and marketing - or one that requires knowledge of the way their specific organisation worked - then I'd probably be better positioned. But for pure networking there are some real leaders in the field who I would recommend above myself. And I would do so without hesitating.

Why? Essentially I have three choices:

1) I can try to do the job myself - and do it less well than I know the competitor would do.

2) I could avoid offering to do the job myself - and not recommend anyone else either - leaving my client with an unsoved problem or need to deal with.

3) I could recommend the competitor - and risk them coming in and winning other "common ground" work from the client that I could have won.

I usually pick option 3 - and it works for my long term benefit.

Firstly it builds up trust with the client. I demonstrably put the clients interests first - and if he' the type of client I should be working with, he will respect that and increase his trust in me. Sales in my business are heavily dependent on trust - so it will win me more future sales. There's a good of example of how McKinsey used this strategy in Charlie Green's Trust Based Selling.

Secondly, the competitor will "owe me". He will be more likely to introduce me to one of his clients in a niche where I am better suited. We both know the game - we wouldn't try to overtly steal or do anything underhand to win the client given such an opportunity (although we would try to impress the client hoping for future work).

Thirdly, the chances are that my client would find out about my competitors special skills eventually. That would not reflect well on me. The argument that "it's up to him to sell his services" or "it;s up to you to find out about the alternatives" would not wash well with my client. He hired me to be his trusted advisor. Not his "trusted whenever it's in my best interests advisor".

Finally, it would feel right for me. In my business I work with my clients closely. Many become friends. Doing anything less than the best for them would not feel right for me.

So in my case, in most circumstances where I felt a competitor could do a better job than me, I would tell the client so.

But I fully recognise that the same dynamics are not a play in all industries and selling situations. Nor always for me either.

Ian - by ianbrodie
Ian:

Your approach follows the same set of priorities I listed on the other thread (self, company, customer), the only logical solution. In essence, you state that you would recommend a competitor because, and this is the important part... it pays off in the long run for you. Again, self being the main priority.

I think you and Pat have a good handle on the issue. - by The Sales Artist
SA - I fear you give me more credt than I am due.

I don't usually think about it and weigh up the pros and cons. What I wrote was probably post-hoc rationalisation of something I do because it feels right - maybe I've swalled all the propaganda hook line & sinker!

As it happens, I'm in a business where that strategy works and benefits me. So it puts me first. But I'm not sure it's deliberate.

In fact it may not work brilliantly. It may be I could make more sales and more money by putting myself first more often. But that wouldn't make me feel good. Luckily in my business I can get away with it and make enough.

I fear if I went to another industry where the same rules didn't apply I'd be eaten alive! I would still recommend competitors even if it didn't work in my interests.

Although I do have a belief that this strategy of putting the customer first works well in more industries and situations than you imply in your posts. I don't have any evidence to back this up through.

One thing this thread has made me realise (or perhaps rediscover is a better phrase) is that sometimes our own experiences - however powerful they may be - may not be a great guide for others in different circumstances. It would be too easy for me to tell everyone that my "customer first" strategy pays dividends without realising hat it might not work for them.

Ian - by ianbrodie
One thing this thread has made me realise (or perhaps rediscover is a better phrase) is that sometimes our own experiences - however powerful they may be - may not be a great guide for others in different circumstances. It would be too easy for me to tell everyone that my "customer first" strategy pays dividends without realising that it might not work for them.
You get my point precisely my friend thmbp2; - by The Sales Artist
Ace, I mean precisely what I said, after all, there simply aren't "cycles" to get all of this into RAM. A SR simply cannot work through the dynamics of these philosophical topics AND hit plan!

As a SR, I spent my (limited) cycles focused on moving suspects into prospects into customers.

I appreciate your comment about my posts seeming "deep" but, in fact, Ace I'm a warhorse that has done it wrong initially but paid attention throughout. I've taken every training course offered by the company while avoiding reading sales books. I've had some great mentors over the years and I've worked for some great companies (3M, Xerox, Apple, etc.). I've managed some thoroughbreds and many journeyman SR's through their learning curve.

So, it's probably more accurate to say that, after 30 + years, I understand the sales process and am able to share what I know.

Good luck & Good selling!
Pat - by OUTSource Sales
So, it's probably more accurate to say that, after 30 + years, I understand the sales process and am able to share what I know.
No doubt that you do.

Thanks for clarifying as to why you wanted to address the philosophy thing. - by Ace Coldiron
You are a good sales person right?

Why don't you sell yourself to your competitor and get a job selling the better widget?

In 1983 Minolta came out with a copier that had variable reduction and enlargement. It was also just a better box than the competitors and Xerox was still making their old floor models, serious pieces of iron.

Outsource sales was there then ... his advice is great, no doubt. But my point is, we were already with Minolta when this happened. And we saw in influx of really good sales guys as a result.

If there was a superior product to the one I was selling I would not want to stay with that company. Of course, I don't recommend one income source either but that is another topic.

Good luck. - by Gold Calling
No need to "inform" your prospect of other products out there - hopefully they're doing that on their own (if they're not, I wonder how close you are to closing the deal).

At the same time, if they bring up a product/supplier that really does meet their needs better than you can, you have two choices as far as I can see them:

1. Fight, kicking and screaming.

2. Tell them you want what's best for them and that if they can really meet their needs better elsewhere, they should (you should also know how you're different - price isn't everything and the better you can articulate how your better/bring different value, the more capable you'll be to keep the business). You know everyone's needs and products fluctuate and you hope that when things change for them or if the other supplier doesn't follow through as they said they would, you can re-open discussions with them.

The fact of the matter is, if there's a better product out there that meets their interests better than yours, they're going whether you like it or not. Since you never know what's going to happen in the long run, always keep your doors open and show your commitment to customer satisfaction(even if it's a commitment you begrudge at the moment).

While this may not be great for your immediate revenue stream, this approach, over time, will help your reputation and your business. As one prospect falls out of your pipeline, an old one will reemerge due to the failed business practices/promises of your competitors.

Stephen
Stephen, I think your take on this is quite sound. I would like to add two things which perhaps can build on what you are saying.

First, "meeting their needs better than yours.." is rarely absolute. Every value proposition has at least one flaw, and it pays to spend the time to uncover and disclose it to the point where the prospect acknowledges it. It weakens the competition's VP while it strengthens your own Unique Selling Proposition. A warranty which exceeds the real needs of the prospect would be an example. The cost corridor of opting for "higher quality" when there is no apparent performance value in the given circumstances would be another example of a flaw.

Second, we can't ignore "switch costs", an economist's term which refers to the costs in time and money often associated with changing suppliers.

My point is that there is almost always daylight. - by Ace Coldiron
Thanks Ace. I couldn't agree more. As a sales person, it's our job to ask the right questions that help the customer prioritize their needs. Once you understand their priorities (and maybe spend some time helping them re-prioritize by talking things through), you'll know if your value proposition fits better than your competitor's.

If it does, great - hopefully you've just won the business. If it doesn't, show your commitment to customer support and tell them you're committed to making sure they do what's best for them (you'd do the same!), but keep the door open by checking in to see how the initiative is going and how your competitor is meeting their needs. Should they fail, you're in great position to swoop in and prove your value.

You also raise a very important point when you mention "switch costs." This is a HUGE factor to consider when someone threatens you to take their business elsewhere. In the technology arena, where we do a lot of work, these threats are very effective, UNLESS people take the time to understand the downsides to switching vendors - redesign costs, retesting, time to market, etc. These are all very costly parts to switching suppliers - understanding them puts a negotiator in much better position to discuss them and refute the possibilities, rendering that negotiator much less susceptible to idle threats.

Finally, as an aside, I agree with Ian's approach to pass business on to others that can fulfill a niche need that you can't. However, this seems to "dodge" the real question. I believe we'd all agree that building a network of referral sources with others who offer complimentary but non-competing services is a GREAT idea. The real challenge (and the question at hand) is in addressing your "competitors" who offer similar services in your niche, who threaten your ability to close the deal. - by sfrenkel
Stephen - I don't think I'm "dodging" the question. I guess my point here is that I don't think anyone has a "direct" competitor. My competitor and I are both consultants who specialise in the sales area. But he is better at networking skills than I am. I am better at other things. So we compete head on in certain areas - in others I would pass him business.

No company competes with exactly identical products to others. There are always areas where you are stronger and areas where you are weaker. In some cases it makes sense to recommend or mention a competitor who may be better suited than you (it often does in my business). In others it doesn't (some of the ones Sales Artist is talking about).

Another thing worth bearing in mind is that customers are rarely buying just the product itself. They are buying the associated services too. And part of that "service" can often be the way the salesperson interacts with them. For example in consulting and other services, the customer will often buy what looks like an "inferior" technical proposal in favour of one from a salesperson and organisation who appear to understand their needs better. They figure (probably quite correctly) that if the firm really understands them they will be able to adapt the solution to meet their needs better.

So because I'm taking into account this "total service" effect, and switching costs (and my swaggering self-belief in how great I am!) it's actually pretty rare that I'll recommend someone else over myself. Not because I am not trying to think in the customers interest - but because I mostly think that I am the best solution for the customer!

Ian - by ianbrodie
No company competes with exactly identical products to others. There are always areas where you are stronger and areas where you are weaker. In some cases it makes sense to recommend or mention a competitor who may be better suited than you (it often does in my business). In others it doesn't (some of the ones Sales Artist is talking about).

Another thing worth bearing in mind is that customers are rarely buying just the product itself.
Agreed, Ian. - by Skip Anderson

Stephen - I don't think I'm "dodging" the question. I guess my point here is that I don't think anyone has a "direct" competitor.
Ian, I read your post and do not mean to truncate it and isolate anything out of context but I have a story to share.

In 1983 Minolta introduced the world's first variable reduction and enlargement copier. It had an application that copier sales people would not have realized. The result? We ended up with all of the ad agencies and graphic houses in Toronto as clients.

Approximately 8 years later the color copier was coming into its own, we wanted to take all those clients and cash in again.

The problem was, though our machine was excellent (Toshiba) it did not have the same quality on a number of applications needed by artists (like photo quality) as the Canon did, which we could not represent. We lost a lot of business we started to our competitor ... actually ended up creating business for our competitor, as once we inadvertently showed them the application - through prospects - they ended up selling the better equipment.

Just as the Minolta 450Z was superior, which led to us scoring all the daily and weekly newspapers, almost every ad agency and 90% of the graphics companies, the Canon was a clear leader for graphics.

If I could have, I would have gotten a vertical market territory from Canon in the Toronto area, it was just that they would not offer it. And, if the application was not a vertical market that crossed the lines of geographical territories, meaning if I could have scored in one patch, I would have taken the next available one and gone with Canon back then.

Learning to sell an inferior quality product, if that is bound to be short lived, is great expereince. However, one must consider the size of their commission checks, perhaps leaning towards greener pastures than frustration mixed with a pinch of starvation (relatively speaking). - by Gold Calling
I have a question and would just like to see the responses it might produce. Imagine that you're a widget salesperson. After doing some preliminary work you realize that while your widget is good and would adequately fulfill the prospect's needs, your competitor's version of the widget is better and would even better fit the prospect's needs. You're in front the of the prospect now. What do you say to him?
My role is to discover what the prospect wants to accomplish and then show how my widget can help him or her achieve that outcome and it is the prospect's role to decide if my widget fits his or her needs. - by SalesCoach
You have to remember the product is not all that is involved in the sales process. There is one thing the competing widget does not have and that is YOU! If you know YOU are the very best then the other widget can't hold a candle to YOU! - by MPrince
I have a question and would just like to see the responses it might produce. Imagine that you're a widget salesperson. After doing some preliminary work you realize that while your widget is good and would adequately fulfill the prospect's needs, your competitor's version of the widget is better and would even better fit the prospect's needs. You're in front the of the prospect now. What do you say to him?

A simple solution.Does the widget fit the needs of the client. Is it something they need,want,use and can afford? Does the widget fullfil the clients demands. Proper questions allow you to find out what the client wants.
When the answer is yes why is this not the best possible solution for the client?
We can always find a product or service that helps the client more than they want or need.
Mr.Prospect how does this widget sound to you. Mr. Prospect does this sound like it works for you? - by rich34232
well thats silly, if you don't feel good about the widget you sell, it affects your confidence level...bottom line without confidence your dead for the long term...you don't say anything else to the customer....you say the truth in the most appealing way possible

overall you are selling yourself more than the widget if you are face to face or even over the phone and another thing, you don't want to start judging what product is right for someone...

what do you mean what do you say to the prospect...if they bring it up....a competitor... just tell them that's a good choice and you can understand why they would take a look at it, you understand how they feel and you looked at the same product yourself but after a closer look at the facts/stats/info i saw that this widget im currently using an recommending was actually much better suited for results because ...etc etc...

i mean maybe im off point here..its just seems there are basically 2 options when you see your product is inferior.... you either go on trying to sell it or you dont.....but i dont tell my prospect anything like....different...i aint gonna say "hey there's this other widget John....its really much better for you than what i got.... but try mine anyways..." if im gonna keep selling it, im just gonna keep trying to improve my methods and techniques.... what else would you do? - by planrecruiter
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