7 Tips for Selling During a Tough Economy

7 Tips for Selling During a Tough Economy

One dreaded statement from a sales prospect can make a salesperson turn pale.

“Is this your best deal?”

“I’ve interviewed a couple of your competitors and they are willing to sell for less.”

“Thanks, but we want to shop around before deciding to sign up with you.”

A client recently said, “Our business has been so good for the past five years that we haven’t felt a need to do any sales training, but things are different now and we need help!” In today’s market of intense competition and constant margin pressure, this scenario continues to replay itself. When not prepared for price resistance seen in tough market conditions, a weak salesperson stammers with a poorly thought-out response like, “Well, let me see what I can do.” Is it really about price or is it value? Let’s consider some solutions.

What is value anyway?

The truth is that value, like beauty, is quite subjective. It is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. It is incumbent upon every sales professional to find out exactly what the prospect values. Be sure to lead with your ears and ask the questions that reveal what your prospect actually values.

Learn to Sell Value by Differentiating Your Services

To decision makers, we often appear to offer just about the same products and services. At U.S. Learning, we define a commodity as a product or service with no discernible differences, one from another, that is available from multiple sources. “Harness the power of relationships and lock out the competition, regardless of the marketplace.” Your prospective customers may be busy commoditizing your solution, in which case you must be busy differentiating it. The bottom line is this: Unless we can create a powerful and distinct difference to the customer, we all appear to have the same product or service. So the question is: How do I separate myself and our offerings from the competition? The answer: You’ve just got to be different—really different. And it’s not always about price! 

Seven Ways to Differentiate Yourself from the Competition

1. Product Differentiation

How is your product or offering different from or better than your competitors? If you can’t come up with some solidly unique components, you may be in danger of being perceived as just another commodity. Here’s a strategy: Perhaps you and others within your company can make product enhancements a major initiative. The collective intellect of this group might well be able to create something unique about your product or service; then creatively exploit every aspect of the difference and tie it into what the prospective customer values. Your goal is to come up with both UCAs (unique competitive advantages) and RAs (relative advantages).

2. Price Differentiation

Unsophisticated marketing and salespeople often think the best way to get business is by underpricing everybody else. Thin margins have put more companies out of business than any other single factor. If the boss chooses to go to market as the low-price provider, your company better have every expense category cut to the bone, including sales commissions, or it will perish in short order! In my opinion, this is the worst avenue of approach in trying to build a viable long-term enterprise.

3. Relationship Differentiation

If there is a solid relationship between you and your clients based on trust, you have an inside track of tremendous value. This environment will make you the envy of your competitors, and your client may not even give your competitor a chance if the relationship is strong enough. Build trust with a solid, high-integrity win-win approach by exceeding their expectations and being a valued resource in every conceivable way. Be prepared to earn their trust, which takes time, planning and perseverance. Be impeccable with your word from the get-go and implement a communication process that continues to keep you and your clients connected.

4. Process Differentiation

Many companies don’t attach enough significance to the processes that dictate the image of their business model. The “We’ve never done it that way” syndrome bites us in the backside when we don’t give innovative thought to our business practices. Get your best minds together and brainstorm better, more customer-friendly out-of-the-box ways to do business. Remember that how business is conducted changes every day due to globalization, e-commerce, the Internet, new software programs. Capitalize on innovation rather than being a victim of it!

5. Technological Differentiation

This age of modern technology affords many opportunities to advance our ways of operating and communicating. These new modes of communication encompass a wide variety of options, from using podcasts to update customers or address customer-sensitive issues to a blog that provides “voice” and interface to “hear” from your customers that results in your prospects better understanding updates, changes and timely buying opportunities. Cardinal rule: Make it easy for the customer to communicate and buy.

6. Experiential Differentiation

Many people believe that we are in an “experience economy.” Can we provide customers with knock-your-socks-off service and experiences that are so memorable that they start telling their friends and colleagues? Customer service miracles are anything you can do to make a customer say “Wow!” Ask yourself, “How can I make doing business with me an irresistible experience?”

7. Marketing Differentiation

Give careful thought to how you go to market. If you can outsell your competitors, you will gain market share. Determine ways to create a distinction in your sales and marketing approaches that support setting you apart in your marketplace. If your sales process is so compelling that your prospects see you and your offering as irresistible, it renders your competitors irrelevant!

Remember, people will always pay for expertise and do business with those individuals they know, like and trust! When trust is high, stress levels go down and vice versa, which is why high-pressure tactics really don’t work anymore.

In conclusion, I suggest we revisit the original price objections mentioned at the beginning. Your goal should be to transition your prospect from a discussion on price to a discussion on the differentiated deliverables you offer. When the prospect asks if that is your best price, I suggest you say, “Mr. Bradley, it is very easy to simply focus on apparent price rather than actual cost. I would ask that you give me a few more minutes to allow me to distinguish between our product offerings and those of our competitors. We have engineered some significant advantages for you that are unique to the marketplace.” After getting his permission to continue, you should go into your differentiated advantages, building the value of your solutions in light of his expressed needs. Good luck and good selling! 

This article was published in February 2009 and has been updated. Photo by @Korneevamaha/Twenty20

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