By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

sales competitionFor many years there has been a common way that sellers added opportunities to their pipelines. Other vendors developed opportunities first and these sellers often could skew the requirements in their favor. If and when a purchase appeared likely, other vendors (Columns B, C, etc.) were invited to compete, but had a low chance of winning the business. They were called in primarily to gain pricing leverage against Column A sellers that had already themselves established as the vendors of choice. Vendors invited in later were told budget was already approved, given a short window to respond with proposals and frequently were denied access to Key Players. The bad news is that they were going to lose. The good news is they got to add prospects to their pipelines (albeit for a short time).

When invited in as potential Column B vendors, competent sellers realized they had to try to make themselves equal to the vision Column A had created, add requirements if possible (things the first vendor’s offering didn’t have or that the seller had neglected to highlight), establish value and gain access to Key Players. “Quote and hope” strategies would yield very low win rates.

In today’s selling environment, the rules have changed significantly. Sellers may want to consider that if and when prospects (usually mid to low levels) contact them and have done their homework, it’s likely there is no “Column A” seller nor vendor. The requirements established are an aggregate of all the research they’ve done in visiting websites, reading white papers, attending webinars, input garnered from social networking, etc.

Buyers do research on their own because they don’t want sellers influencing their requirements lists and decision-making processes. When contacted, sellers using traditional selling approaches that try to alter the requirements

prematurely run the risk of providing a poor buying experience and not making the “short list.” Any hint of manipulation or persuasion will not be appreciated by buyers.

Seller that can engage buyers in conversations, understand their visions, help uncover potential areas of payback and ask questions to help them realize additional capabilities could be helpful stand the best chance of becoming “Column A.” Even if successful, however, dependent upon the level of the buyer, there may be a fair amount of selling that remains to be done gaining access to Key Players, identifying outcomes they want to achieve, creating visions and helping to create a cost vs. benefit to help secure funding.

If asked to describe the difference between A and B/C players in a word, I’d choose: Patience.

Years ago it meant resisting the temptation to get into premature product discussions. While that still applies, in today’s selling environment it means treating knowledgeable buyers with respect and over time earning the opportunity to enhance requirements lists by asking situational questions and listening to buyer responses.

Rethinking the Sales Cycle