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Competition Or Collaboration

Collaborate, don’t compete with your customers for a successful sale.

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Now I won’t pretend that I invented the competition or collaboration concept. It’s a good old concept, but just like any good old concept, it needs to be dusted off now and again so it isn’t forgotten. You know, so it doesn’t disappear. So anyway, here’s my take on it — and as always, feel free to argue with me.

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How are you approaching your customers? More precisely, do you know how your employees are approaching your customers? Are they
approaching them with a spirit of competition or collaboration?

Here’s a working definition of the difference between a competitive approach and a collaborative one. If you and I are gonna compete, I’m gonna win. If we’re gonna collaborate, we’re both gonna win.

Selling can be either us against them (competition), or it can be simply be us (collaboration). After all, there are really only two kinds of people in this world when you get right down to it — us and them, right? No, that’s ridiculous! There’s really only one kind of people in this world — us. The spirit of collaboration is about applying the sales process as we would want it applied to us.

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The right approach to selling can render sales the most honorable profession in the world. Take the wrong approach, and even if you’re a good person, (and if you’re reading this, I know you’re a good person) as far as the customer (pronounced the boss) is concerned, you’re just the typical sales monster, trying to bag your next kill.

But let’s be fair. You’ve gotta make an accurate assessment of how your customer is approaching you as well. Sometimes when we simply wanna take care of him, he’s trying to beat the snot out of us. Not exactly collaboration there either. But don’t hold it against every customer that walks through the door; most of them just got poorly trained by the last salesperson they encountered. Look, I know there are a few wackos out there, but most people aren’t. They’re pretty normal, just like you, right? Oh yeah, it’s not us and them, just us.

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Price Points
One place to illustrate my point is how we approach price. Are we trying to beat the customer at the negotiating game, or are we trying to help the customer make sense of the financial aspects of his purchase decision? Is our approach about taking his money, or is it about helping him get the most value for his money?

Challenging customer encounters become such a habit that sometimes we push our customer into trying to beat us up when he shows up in the spirit of collaboration. He often walks in to make some choices, and we leave him only one by arguing about or discounting the price before the customer can even decide on a bike. That’ll push him into a defensive mode at a minimum, but often we start a big drawn-out messy negotiation which ends up with nothing but two ticked off parties and no sale, because there was never a commitment to buy. Then we’ve rendered ourselves enemies — the antithesis of collaboration — instead of friends. This in turn just leaves us competition as a means to communicate.

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We end up believing that the customer is a knuckle-head, and he’s convinced that we are slime, all just because we didn’t take the time to meet him on his terms. He did his part: he showed up at the place where he believed the professionals were. We didn’t do our part by asking the kinds of questions needed to determine how we could meet his agenda. We just told him what he couldn’t do when all he wanted to learn from us was what he could do.

I’m completely convinced that in nearly all cases, neither party wants to steal anything from the other party. Bragging rights are earned over the good deal (from both parties) but other than that, I think most people would prefer to collaborate. I’ve rarely ever seen a customer that wants to hurt you.

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Retrain Yourself
Most salespeople whose process seems to be about hurting the customer have simply bought into the bad training they’ve gotten. As many sales training classes as our team has conducted over the years, one common factor is that there’s always a good percentage of attendees who, having never worked in sales, have already made the assumption that they’ll have to compromise themselves, their ethics and values. Either they really need a job, they’ve always heard that salespeople make more money than everyone else, they really love the product or something else has them there. But there’s that strange, nearly universal, common thread that they believe sales is evil.

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News flash: I don’t believe that evil people gravitate to the profession of selling! But I also believe that most people don’t have a vehicle (pronounced “sales process”) that’ll help them uncompromisingly hold to their ethics and values. They don’t have a process that allows them to be the good people that they really are.

Get on the same team as your customer, and get there first — before you learn a process, before you apply a process, before you begin to sell. Insist on being a collaborator as opposed to a competitor. Refuse to compromise yourself, and collaborate with your customer while you gently insist that they collaborate with you. You may have to teach them collaboration, because you’ll be the uncommon salesperson, and frankly, they’re not prepared to meet you. They hope to meet you, but they ain’t ready for you, and they might not recognize you when they do. Next, resolve to help people find and acquire what they want, what they need and what they deserve.

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