Sales: Turning apples into lemonade

Apples to apples! Who in sales doesn’t hear this every day? Customers who insist on eliminating all variables among competing offerings so they can easily compare prices. It’s a pretty mindless way of buying, but that’s their problem!

Unfortunately, it’s our problem too, isn’t it?

Let’s not waste time analyzing why companies approach buying this way (I guess either they’re afraid of being ripped off or are simply lazy). Whatever the cause, customers’ automatic focus on some form of unit price is kind of a universal force in the world of selling. It’s like sales gravity.

So what are we going to do about it? We’ve read every book and attended every seminar on “how to sell value,” but customers still seem to just yawn at the value propositions we pitch in such a compelling way.


Why salespeople exist

Boy do I hate clichés. But once in a while they seem to fit. And this is one of those whiles: There truly are no silver bullets.

However, there are a lot of non-traditional things we can do to help the customer see beyond price. The first and most important is to accept it as our job. Unfortunately, it’s a statistical reality that most salespeople don’t. They say they do, and they’re not lying. Most of them truly believe that they accept it. 

But consider this. For years we’ve been posing a survey question to salespeople that reads as follows: Select the 3 most common reasons that explain why you (that is, you yourself, not the company as a whole) lost deals in the last two years. We then provide a list of about nine “reasons.”  

There are two very interesting – and overwhelmingly consistent – outcomes of this question. First, “I was simply outsold” (one of the nine choices) is selected less than two percent of the time. Second, “price” is selected more than 80 percent of the time.

Salespeople exist to help customers see beyond price, not to communicate pricing information back and forth.


Don’t fuel the fire

“Erin” was meeting with a good customer. He was a little nervous about the meeting. There were some new players at the account and they had been using a competitor of Erin’s to do some of the things Erin’s company had done in the past.

His meeting was with some of these new players. In the course of the meeting one of them, wanting to make sure Erin understood their buying philosophy, informed him that, “We are all about price.” Erin replied, “How does our pricing compare with Company X’s pricing?” 

It’s over! With that reply, Erin had eliminated any chance he might ever have of positioning his value. He instantly agreed to this vendor-bashing customer’s terms of engagement.

With understandable intentions salespeople ask questions like, “What role will price play in the decision?” We have to lose this question and questions like it. First, the answer is almost always the same. More importantly, it is indirectly volunteering to accept price as the basis of the business relationship.


Don’t count on traditional “value” tools

One very big company I know spent a small fortune on a consultant to help them develop a killer PowerPoint presentation, complete with stunning graphics, imagery, visuals and the like, all intended to help salespeople pitch the company’s value proposition to customers. Did it help? Well, yes, with a small number of customers who happened to be at just the right place in the decision cycle and who happened to operate with a buying process that lent itself to such a big event presentation.

Having a compelling value proposition is important. But salespeople place way too much stock in its ability to get the job done.

There are countless other traditional ways of attempting to sell beyond price. Offering value added freebies and counting on “my relationship” with customers are two that come to mind. But most of what we’ve tried hasn’t really worked.


It’s all about you

The most important shift in thinking that I believe salespeople have to make is away from having some kind of compelling story to tell (again, don’t get me wrong, it’s nice if you’ve got it) and toward the recognition that customers are making value judgments during every single interaction they have with salespeople.

It’s the way salespeople approach customer interactions that really makes the difference.  Ask yourself:

  • Do I come across as a traditional “tell mode” vendor, a question-asking problem solver, or…ideally…a “seek mode” business resource? 
  • Do I use master/servant language (“I know you’re busy”, etc) that pegs me as a same ‘ol same ‘ol peddler or do I use peer-to-peer language?
  • At the end of the day, do I come across like I’m really just looking for the transaction or am I truly exploring the potential fit between the two companies?
  • Do I try to learn about their needs or their business?


Try shifting your approach – your language, really – away from traditional sales approaches and language and you will start to see customers respond without even knowing they’re doing so. Because they’re no longer dealing with a “vendor,” they’re dealing with a “business resource.”

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