Competing against Customers

Customers are not to be conquered. They are not the enemy. They may be the prize, but your goal is service and collaboration, not conquest. Companies often speak of customer focus, but what they mean is the customer is “in focus” like game to a big game hunter. Sometimes with this mindset, people view their interactions with customers as a competition.   

The customer’s business is needed and sought after for your success. They have the upper hand in any transaction, whether you want to admit or not. Hopefully, they know what they need and require your product or service to meet them. Customers usually have a solution to their problem. They were not waiting for you to surface and show them the light. In most instances, they are satisfied with their solution. Your objective is to show them something vastly superior to their status quo or get them to express dissatisfaction with their current state. You achieve this objective in the sales presentation.

In the sales presentation, you showcase your expertise in product knowledge and customer service. Employees strongly believe their product is superior. You are trained to believe this. You feel that any intelligent and reasonable prospect should jump at the opportunity to buy from you.  Conversely, your prospect is skeptical of your objectivity. During the sales presentation you may encounter resistance. In your exuberance, you run the risk of mismanaging this resistance, and creating conflict.

Customers may challenge your product claims around features and benefits. They may elect to continue with their current product selection or course of action. The skilled sales person is poised, strategic and tactful in mounting their response to resistance. The sales presentation must not become a jousting match and a battle of wills. If you try to demonstrate superiority through sarcasm, impatience, contempt or use of data and technical knowledge, you will fail. If you choose to compete with the potential customer, you will choose to lose. 

You compete with your customers when you,

  • View  resistance as rejection and take it personally
  • Engage the customer to trap them in intellectual arguments to exploit inconsistencies in their thinking or actions
  • Challenge their way of doing business and decision-making
  • Appear arrogant in tone of voice and body language
  • Fail to listen to their concerns or questions
  • Flaunt your product knowledge in a way that does not benefit the customer

I worked with a sales person to sell a physician on using a new product.  The objective was to get the doctor to agree to use the drug on ten patients. The doctor said the drug class did not work on his patient population. After a heated exchange the representative asked if the doctor had ever used the product. “How do you know if this product won’t work on your patient if you have never used it?” This was the representative’s actual response to a legitimate customer objection. Well, the doctor’s demeanor instantly changed. He agreed to place not ten, but twenty patients on the drug. The representative was excited. He was satisfied with his salesmanship, not realizing the doctor would say anything to get rid of him. The result was as I feared; the doctor never placed any patients on the new product.

Signs of losing the customer’s interest

The customer sends clues to let you know when you are competing with them and they are losing interest. A perceptive sales representative will recognize these warning signs. They tell you the customer does not agree with the message and may harbor resistance and reservations. An outside observer, such as a manager, field trainer or coach, can be more objective and spot these signs. The best sales people also have this ability.  The clues are verbal and non-verbal.

  • Verbal cues
    • Closed minded and objects to minor aspects of your presentation
    • Overly agreeable, yet wants to postpone making a decision. They will ask for information to review in an attempt to speed up the presentation or to postpone to a later date
    •  
  • Non-verbal cues – Body language
    • Folded arms and pulling away
    • Standing up during the presentation
    • Facial expression changes, knits their brow, looks disinterested
    • Impatience and the resistance is sometimes so thick, it is palpable. When the customer loses interest in you, your product is close behind. 

Prospects may ask questions to show their lack of interest in your presentation. Questions that are indicators of the door closing to a sale are;

  • “You mean to tell me”
  • “What makes you think”  
  • “How could you possibly say”

When you adopt an attitude that says someone must win and someone must lose, you may create an adversarial relationship with your potential clients. Additionally, when you take the presentation personally, your ego may get involved and cause you to compete against your client rather than work with them. Remember, your customer has something you want. You do not want to get into a situation where you are debating and competing to win the argument, which causes you to lose access to a customer’s business.

Copyright © 2010 Orlando Ceaser

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