Did Price Really Lose The Sale?

If you asked your colleagues why they or your organisation have recently lost business to a competitor, what would they give as the most common reason? When I’ve asked clients or audiences the same question, without fail the immediate response is ‘price’ – and that happens pretty much anywhere in the world I happen to be working.

If you get the ‘price’ response go on to ask your colleagues about how they won their best client or customer – a dream client that they really value and who gets real value from working with your organisation. In my experience the answer is rarely that a dream client was won on price.

When I ask that question people tend to become really animated and they smile a lot. They explain about how the chemistry was right and how well they and the customer got on. They explain how much they invested in getting to know the client, their plans, critical success factors and their motivations. They explain how their proposal was carefully crafted, without any ‘cut and paste’ and that their presentation was like poetry in motion, hitting all the needs and wants of the client.  They tell me the client got value from the selling process and that money was discussed but that both sides ended up with a price they were happy with.

Too often price is blamed when in fact we got something else wrong – we didn’t understand the client as well as our competitors did, which meant they did a better proposal, a better presentation a better negotiation. Just like we did when we won our great clients.

We Choose Who We Allow To Understand Us

We all know that winning business, that selling, involves ‘understanding’ the customer. Just check out how many businesses claim through their web sites and marketing materials to ‘really understand’ their clients.

One of the most profound comments I’ve heard from a professional buyer is We choose who we allow to understand us .  Buyers know that sales people are taught questioning techniques. They know about open, leading and closed questions. They also recognise genuine interest. To today’s more sophisticated and internet savvy buyer it is obvious when questions are being asked just to get closer to a sale rather than from genuine interest. They see through those who ask questions to uncover ‘pain’ or ‘hot buttons’. They are annoyed when what looks like a buying signal is pounced on with an instant solution.

What Ernest Hemingway Teaches Us About Selling

Ernest Hemingway was an American writer who developed a style of writing called the ‘iceberg principle’. He learned to write in a surface level way where he omitted or hinted at the real point of the story. Hemingway believed that the crux of a story lies below the surface. Sometimes known as the theory of omission it provided him with a very distinctive but often frustrating style of writing.

When people begin a new relationship they tend to share information that is in the same style as Hemingway – they give their surface level story, only sharing the full picture with those close to them or people they trust.

You don’t have to be a ship’s captain to know that an iceberg is only around 10% above the water with 90% lying under the surface. For a ship it is the 90% that the Captain doesn’t see that is the dangerous part. The iceberg principle also applies to business relationships. Most potential customers and clients have their stories of ‘omission’ – the information about themselves and their business that they share with people they only have surface level relationships with. It isn’t an attempt to deceive or catch you out; it is just what normal people do.

The risk is that a relationship is often sunk before it can flourish, not because of lack of understanding about the surface story, the prospects story of omission, but a lack of understanding about the full picture. To win a dream client you have to be the one who they allow to get beyond their story of omission and who gains the insight that comes from getting below their iceberg.

Demonstrating Genuine Interest

You have to earn the right to have the full story shared with you. It isn’t good enough anymore to go through the motions and only show interest long enough to find buying signals or explore ‘what keeps you awake at night’.  We can all tell when someone else isn’t really listening, when they are on their own agenda not ours – and when that happens we feel misled because the behaviours demonstrated are not congruent with marketing messages that make claims about being client focused.

When we earn the right to hear the full story, to get the full picture it makes it so much easier to produce that well-crafted proposal or presentation and to come up with exactly the right solution.

You earn the right to hear more than a client’s story of omission when:

  • You ask insightful questions
  • You listen for understanding
  • You avoid manipulation
  • You behaviours are congruent with your marketing messages
  • You are authentic; selling ethically and with integrity.
  • You are human – remembering that buying is rationalised emotion.

If you want to avoid being told yet again you came a ‘close second’, ensure you demonstrate genuine interest and get the full picture.