Proving that you can

Proving that you can

By overcoming preconceived notions and establishing the proper strategy, selling into any new market can be achieved.

Any client-focused sales organisation understands the importance of accurate forecasting. Experi-enced salespeople know that accurate forecasting is based on a mix of facts, hard-won "inside information", reading various indicators and the old "gut feel".

Yet we regularly work with clients who feel uncertain about their chances of winning a particular sale or bid. Those feelings are normally based around one of two issues:

1. "We can't win this bid, because we can't match our competitors' price."

2. "We really want this sale, but we've never sold into this type of client/industry before," or "We've never done this type of work before."

Let's deal with the price issue first. It's a common enough problem, but not without answers. Too often we don't put in the extra yards to get price in context, and as a result, we lose the business. There seem to be four major assumptions we make about the role of price in a sale.

1. The first assumption is that your client will automatically understand that the service or product you're offering is different to that offered by your competitors. It's likely that they will assume the two products are the same and compare prices. The solution is to make certain that the client is not trying to compare apples to apples. The chance of the two competitive offers being the same is remote. If you let the comparison be made on the basis of price versus price, you will only have yourself to blame if your price is higher and you lose. Price is only important when the product or service is exactly the same.

2. The second is the assumption that price is important at all. If you sell the true value of what you offer; if you sell the benefits well enough; if you create the desire, price falls into context.

3. The third is that if the price will be paid over a short time, the value of what is offered is also short-term. Explore the long-term value of the changes that will occur by implementing your solution. How can this price save the client money, or mitigate risk into the future, beyond this offer? Again, price will then come into perspective.

4. The fourth assumption is that if you lower the price you will automatically win the business. This is equally spurious because business decision-makers seldom buy on price alone.

Your challenge is to get rid of all the assumptions by getting price into perspective. Now, the next problem: you have the skills and enthusiasm, but your company has never sold into a particular industry, or completed a project of this scope before.

The challenge is, "How can we prove we can handle a project like this, when we have never done so before?"

This is a dilemma facing any company expanding from one area of capability to another. One of our clients faced this dilemma a couple of years ago, and went on to win nine out of 11 similar projects.

Here is the technique we used:

First, we convinced the client that the old way of running projects like this was no longer applicable. Fresh thinking was needed.

By developing that argument, we showed that experience in running projects like this was actually not an advantage at all.

The client agreed and in one swoop we had cut the legs from under the incumbent. That company's experience in running these projects now actually worked against it.

Second, we demonstrated that while we had not run a project like this before, we had run another that, while not the same, shared important fundamentals with the project in question. We took the emphasis off the project itself and put it onto the fundamental similarities shared by the two projects. By the end of the presentation, we had given them enough proof and demonstrated that we had experience in key elements of a project like this.

Finally, we avoided addressing the issue of our company's lack of knowledge in this area and instead used experience held by one member of our team. While she hadn't done a project like this while working for us, she had done similar work before.

The three elements of attack convinced the client and we won the business.

Jeff Sheard is sales director for Asia-Pacific of Rogen International. Reach Rogen at:

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