BUSINESS TODAY is more competitive than ever. Few companies enjoy the luxury of being the sole provider of a product or service. Indeed, as soon as a new product is introduced to the market, a competitor company will carefully examine it to see how it fares. If it fills a market niche or outperforms existing products, they will quickly introduce a similar product. As consumers, most of us are in favor of strong competition. It means that we are offered choices and, perhaps more importantly, it prevents one company from selling their products at unreasonably high prices.
One has to wonder how a salesperson can make a difference in this sales’ environment. However, consider this: If the products or services sold by two vendors are similar in cost and features and they are sold to the same client base, the only thing that can really make the difference is the way the products are sold. (Let’s not confuse this with commodity selling where the product is simple and identical irrespective of which vendor it comes from. Examples of this might be sugar, flour, corn-meal. In this type of selling the only factors that make a difference are cost and availability.)
Consider a product like an elevator for a high-rise building. Schindler, Toshiba, Hitachi, and Otis are all well-known brands. At the end of the day, these will be customized to accommodate load, number of floors, interior finishing, etc. Truth of the matter; it doesn’t really matter which company the elevator is bought from. So a salesperson must find ways to influence the sale.
Networking is one way of making a difference.
Faced with two vendors selling similar products for the same price, a customer will probably favor the salesperson he or she knows, likes, and trusts. Personal introductions or connections with other trusted parties go a long way to swing business in a salesperson’s favor. However, networking and personal connections take time to develop. The salesperson who is new to an industry and perhaps has few contacts may find himself disadvantaged when selling against more experienced, industry-stable individuals.
Another way of gaining an advantage (even though he is selling a similar product) is to make the customer believe that he is selling the only product that meets all of the client’s requirements. This doesn’t mean telling the client that other products are inferior. Nor is he required to tell the client why his product is better. And it certainly doesn’t mean lying or exaggerating his own product’s performance.
Most buyers who are looking for a particular product or service know full well that they will not be able to get an exact match with their requirements. Thus, the decision to purchase will invariably be made on the “best-fit” solution. Using an example of two salespeople trying to sell photocopiers, the first vendor presents what he believes to be the most appropriate model to meet the customer’s needs. The second salesperson spends more time asking questions. Rather than mentioning any single feature, he determines what the client wants. His questions are so worded as to make the client express needs for each of the features. He might ask, “Are you looking for a copying machine that will collate copies?” or “You mentioned that with the volume of copying you have to do, your staff spend a lot of time at the photocopier. Do you think an auto-document feeder might speed things up?”
By the end of the call, the second salesperson can present his solution with confidence knowing that his solution is an exact match for the client’s requirements. Despite the fact that the first vendor’s copier will probably meet these client’s requirements just as well (because he, too, offers the same type of machine and servicing schedule), the client is more likely to be impressed by the second salesman.
Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.