Unseating the Competition

Customers get comfortable with their existing suppliers and this makes it difficult to unseat the competition and win new business. I recently visited an account with a rep who saw flagrant safety protocols being breached by the business’ current supplier. As a producer of scientific glassware, this account required a large number of high-pressure hydrogen cylinders and their supplier had lax material handling procedures for this explosive gas. In addition, we identified that the company was not being provided the most efficient mode of supply. When we tried to win this account on the promise of safer and better service, the owner’s response was, “We have been doing it this way for years and have never had an issue.” Unfortunately it took an accident that led to both the competitor and customer being issued safety violations, to change his mind.

Response Modes

The above case illustrates how difficult it can be to overcome a client’s negative response to a sales proposal. In their book, The New Strategic Selling, Robert Miller and Stephen Heilman, address this issue and suggest that each Buying Influencer at an account will have one of four response modes to a proposal. They advise paying careful attention to these factors:

  1. Overconfident – Many customers have Buying Influencers who are overconfident with their current supplier. The Ultimate Decision-Maker in the above account was too comfortable with his method of supply.
  2. Growth – The glassmaker was growing and the User Buying Influencer agreed with us that they needed to move from cylinders to bulk supply of hydrogen. He was tired of the time it took his team to stop and exchange the manifolds of cylinders, but his voice fell on deaf ears.
  3. Trouble – The Technical Buying Influencer, an engineer, recognized the cost savings of going to bulk supply as well as the trouble with existing safety protocols, but he didn’t want to “rock the boat” with the owner.
  4. Even Keel – We discussed the cost savings of our proposal with the corporate controller, the Economic Buying Influencer, but he couldn’t be convinced. He liked to keep things on an even keel.

Spend More Time with Buying Influencers

You don’t have to let an accident be the factor that changes a customer’s mind. Take time to review your top prospects and key accounts. For each company, examine the response of each influencer to your proposal and make a coordinated effort to get them all on board. These are the people who are critical to supporting your proposal and enabling you to win new business.

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