So what's a seller to do?
When I was in college, I worked at the Ground Round Restaurant as a waitress. On weekends, Leroy Larson played his banjo and sang the old favorites. After months of working there, I developed quite a liking for his rendition of songs by the Kingston Trio. (MTA & Tom Dooley)
Twenty years later, this group came to Minneapolis for a concert. I persuaded my husband to go with me – even though he wasn't enamored with their music. After the warm-up singers, a booming voice came over the microphone announcing the main act: "ladies and gentlemen (long pause)…The Kingston Trio."
There was a roar of applause as we waited for this much beloved group to appear. From the left side of the stage, three old, bald, slightly overweight guys hobbled slowly to the center. One was leaning so heavily on his cane we weren't sure if he'd make it.
The audience was in shock. We were in the midst of a geriatric unit. The once vibrant Kingston Trio looked like they belonged in the old folks' home.
The lead singer limped up to the microphone. When he got there he stopped. Slowly he scanned the audience, practically making eye contact with each person. As he looked at us, his head started shaking back and forth like he was in disbelief. Still, he was silent.
Finally he spoke. With a twinkle in his eye, he looked straight at us and said, "My goodness you've gotten old!"
The crowd erupted in laughter. The elephant in the room had been addressed; and once it was out on the table, it totally lost its impact.
How does this apply to selling?
When I sold for Xerox, my most feared competitor had a switch that automatically turned its copiers off after not being in use for 20 minutes. This was at a time when gas prices were high and people were big into conservation.
I lost more sales over this stupid feature than I care to admit. My competitor kept emphasizing its value. All my responses made me sound like I was on the defensive.
The truth was the annual cost savings were miniscule. Plus waiting for the system to warm up again drove people nuts. But it wasn't till I started bringing up the subject myself that I regained my competitive edge. Early on in the sales process, I would say:
"As you're evaluating systems you're likely to hear some vendors talk about how great it is to have an automatic off/on switch. For your information, when copiers are in the "wait mode" they're using about the same amount of electricity as a standard light bulb – which is minimal.
"What people don't realize when they get copiers with this switch is that you have to wait 30 seconds for it to warm up again each time. I don't know about your employees, but many find it unacceptable to wait for 30 seconds for their copy. They want it immediately."
I never lost to that competitor again. That's what can happen when you face into those dreaded subjects, think about them ahead of time and plan your response. You might even need to experiment with several variations until you find the right way to say things.
What other elephants could be in the room?
If pricing is the issue, address the fact that you're not the low cost provider head on and tell them why it's to their advantage. If you're a small company without the breadth of coverage of a corporate giant, point out the fact early on in your discussions. Then, follow up with several statements about why that's good for them.
Recently, I noticed a corporate giant using this strategy in their television advertising campaign. SAP, a firm that offers a comprehensive range of enterprise software applications, is perceived by many smaller firms to be too complicated, sophisticated, and pricey for their business operations. In their ads, executives/owners of these growing firms express surprise that they can get SAP's capabilities at such an affordable rate. It's very effective.
So, what elephants are you tiptoeing around? What areas do you dread talking about? Once you name them, start working on how to proactively bring them up when you meet with prospective customers. That's the only way for them to lose their impact!
Jill Konrath, sales strategist and author of Selling to Big Companies, helps sellers crack into corporate accounts and win big contracts. For more info and to get a free Sales Call Planning Guide, visit her website at http://www.SellingtoBigCompanies.com.
Published in Networking Today, April 2007