WorkWise: What to do if a competitor gets there first

culp@workwise.netSeptember 2, 2012 

(Elastic Inc.) Joshua Waller, left, sales trains colleagues Karan Ramchandani, center, and Andrew Pineda at Elastic Inc. in Mountain View, Calif. Waller is director of sales.

What can you do when another business owner approaches your prospect first, even if you sell better quality?

You need a sales strategy that allows for “new products (not staying) new for a long time,” says Ron Hubsher, CEO of the Sales Optimization Group LLC in New York, N.Y. “This is true across industries.” Hubsher consults with multinational companies in highly competitive markets.

STRATEGY

A small-business consultant, Kevin Poland, who’s president and CEO of The Renaissance Group Inc. in Tampa, Fla., asks an important question to consider as you’re developing your strategy: “Does (being second) change how you’re going to approach this particular prospect? Focus on what you can control ... your own process, the quality of your product or service and the quality in the customer/client experience. If your product or service is so good it gives you a competitive advantage, it doesn’t matter what a competitor is using. Focus on designing the best product and customer experience.

“The competitor is educating the market,” he adds, “by doing the legwork and creating the market.” Identifying what the buyer values is primary. Differentiation comes next.

Hubsher would concur, commenting that entrepreneurs tend to be “too product-focused.” He suggests shifting that focus to risks the buyer encounters, which requires you to know, educate and serve your buyer.

BRIDGES

The challenge of a new product or service (and one that isn’t) lies in establishing a connection between your offering and your buyer. Hubsher advocates minimizing risk for the buyer and his company. “Use this as a differentiating factor,” he advises. “Make it superior. There may be a whole bunch of issues unrelated to the features of the product or service. A better mousetrap doesn’t do it.”

Hubsher mentions three simple questions to begin fact-finding: “When you take a new product, what are your concerns? How can we make this a good relationship for you? What are you looking for in an ideal new product and company?”

He points out possible references to product or service quality, trust, on-time delivery, quantities ordered. Initiate communication like this and develop a precedent to carry you through the entire process, from selling to delivering and managing ongoing communication with your customer, whose particular needs might change. If something changes in your business, your ability to communicate effectively will facilitate integrating that change in the buyer’s system.

Director of sales Joshua Waller manages outsourced sales service with 20 people at Elastic Inc., in Mountain View, Calif., where Silicon Valley’s product excellence and keen competition are givens. He says his team has “to pitch (prospects) quickly” because of the newness of the offerings. One start-up striving to increase its customer base 100 percent in half of the company’s lifespan had a clear objective, one Elastic could meet. Then the real selling began, as Waller probed to find the underlying reason for expansion and the accelerated schedule.

“We asked why they needed to double it in that period when it took much longer to get there,” Waller explains. “Competition? Investor push? Going into another round of funding?” Understanding the customer’s need to reach his vision of success facilitates the ability to manage. Establishing the relationship makes the support team’s job easier and paves the way for longevity.

“A good salesperson must completely understand that person, what he wants and why, and why now,” he points out. The prospect will work with you because of your grasp of his needs.

“It’s not the latest feature that wins but the promise that lowers the buyer’s business risk,” Hubsher observes.

Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net. © 2012 Passage Media.

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