If you want to differentiate yourself from the competition, you have to play your own game, not the game everyone else is playing—which is doing whatever the customer is asking to make the customer “like” you. The old saying that people do business with people they like is only true to a point. What is more true is that people do business with people they TRUST. To gain trust, you must have conversations that are in the best interests of the customers. That’s a winning game plan.
When I started my speaking/consulting business in 1988, I took at a course on how to develop a training program. At the end of the two-day event, the instructor posed this question to everyone (most of whom were HR professionals or corporate trainers): If your CEO came to you with a problem as well as a solution on the type of training program he wants you to use to solve it, and you found in your research that his approach is wrong, what would you do? Everyone in the room said they would follow the CEO’s orders. I was shocked. Why agree to an approach that’s doomed to failure? Who is the one they are going to blame if it doesn’t work? You! Why not challenge their way of thinking? You are supposedly the expert.
Customers often don’t know what they really need. They know what they want, but wants tend to be emotionally based, while needs are outcome based. Some sales execs use a strategy to give people what they want in order to get in the door, and then they try to convert to a strategy that is more needs oriented. For instance, they give a customer a lower-level solution at a lower price because the customer wants the lower price. This may work at the front end, but it will usually prevent you from getting the kind of business you want later on. As a Sales and Leadership expert, I have to tell you that such a strategy does not position you properly and devalues what you have to offer. The hope that you can upsell them once you get in is often compromised by the lower prices you are now charging.
After keynoting a conference, CEOs will talk to me about their issues in more detail. I usually challenge their way of thinking, which often leads to a six-figure retainer. Why? Because CEOs know they need someone to tell them the truth and reveal their blind spots in order to achieve their desired success. Successful CEOs know they need to be challenged, they have plenty of employees who will always offer agreement.
Sales execs who play it safe and are trying to be liked will often not differentiate themselves from the competition. Those willing to challenge someone’s thinking (when appropriate) and offer ideas on how to achieve goals are more likely to get the better deal. But if appropriately challenging the customer doesn’t result in getting the deal done, then you “dis-qualified” the prospect, which is just as important. You won’t be wasting time on an account that will not appreciate your value and accept your proposal.
Don’t be afraid to challenge people’s way of thinking. Share the best practices you see in their industry and help your customers focus on strategies that will produce their desired outcomes. This approach will set you apart, and it’s often the game-winning play.