Do you remember when you had to be good at more than just one thing? You had to be good at your job but you also had to be able to change the oil in your car, switch over the winter tires, you had to be able to sew and cook; in other words, it was common to be able to do a number of things and that’s how we lived. I still remember that you couldn’t be a professional soccer player – you had to be a soccer player and do something else to make a living.
Nowadays you can make a living doing just one thing. What used to be exclusive to the realm of the artist or the professional is now available to all of us.
An interesting thing happens when everyone is so specialized. All the specialization leads to less competition. Well, less competition by meaning of a direct competitor; but what increases are the alternatives. So when you’re a business owner, or sales and marketing professional, you’re faced with not only competing against other businesses or people that do exactly what you do, but now you’re also competing against the alternative.
What are the customers’ alternatives?
As specialization continues to increase into the world of super-specialization, what you end up with are many more alternatives for your product – but the alternative of your product may not always be obvious. For example, is your new car competing against a home renovation company? Perhaps new home furniture is competing against the down payment on a new car in your prospective customer’s mind.
Often they will have to weigh options as to what they will invest in first: a car for the family, getting renovations to their home done, buying new furniture, going on a long-desired vacation, etc. So even if you narrow down your business’s area of specialization, you will still always be vulnerable to these entirely different alternatives. It’s an area of competition that many businesses tend to overlook – especially businesses that sell big ticket items.
The sales team
If you are in sales, you will be impacted by this in a bigger way than just about every other department in your organization. This is because speaking to the customer can’t be a rambling on about your own product. The questions you ask must be geared towards an overall understanding of the parties with whom you are talking.
This will be further complicated for those that are selling into any major decisions such as the purchase of furniture, home improvement services, or a vehicle. The complexity lies by the fact that these decisions are usually made by more than just one person in the family. You are often dealing with your customer and their spouse, and in some cases your customer and their entire family. Once again, it’s the sales department that will have to face this increased complexity right there on the frontline.
With this in mind, it’s critical for anyone in sales management to teach your people that they’re not just competing against the other specialized competitor; but to also be aware that they are likely competing against another alternative which may not be immediately obvious. This requires a greater emphasis on creating a comfortable rapport with not just the direct person you’re selling to, but the other people that may be “coming along” with them. More time should be taken to ask the customer more questions so that you have the full picture and, as a result, can address those concerns that are within your ability to influence.
Asking the right questions and offering the best answer
Let’s take a look at an example. Say you’re trying to sell a $40,000 car to a mom and dad with two kids who are also wanting to go on a vacation soon. Depending on the financing options they have available to them, the purchase of that $40,000 car may be feasible or they may decide that the better option is to hold off for anywhere between six months to a year so that they can go on a nice summer vacation first. Even if financing, there will still be a deposit.
That’s why it is so important for a salesperson to be able to ask the right questions, to get to know the buyer and family’s financial pain points, and to understand what matters to them on a fundamental level. When you put in the effort, you not only have more opportunities to decipher and address their key concerns, but you also build a rapport and reciprocal trust. It gives you a better chance of making the sale, and removes the proverbial elephant in the room.
For the marketing department, it’s critical to be aware of the most common alternatives to your product or service. Even though you may be in a very small niche as it is, you must still outline and understand the alternatives your customers might be inclined to purchase rather than your product. That way, just like the sales team, you can address these alternatives and find ways to refine your message so that people are more drawn to your products and/or services.
If this alternative did happen to be that a family, and prospective customer, were also hoping to go on a vacation in the next year, then you could cater to this alternative by including a travel certificate as a purchase reward. That way, they end up buying your product and can still go on that much-desired vacation – thanks to you.
The below image shows a couple who experienced exactly this. As the customer, Heather Vos, said: “Our vacation to Las Vegas was amazing! We received this vacation as a gift when purchasing our Nissan.”
Remember that, no matter the alternative, you need to think beyond your own business. People are constantly weighing their options against their finances to determine what they can afford next. Asking enough questions will help you to establish trust, and an understanding of their needs. Then you can position your pitch, your product and your marketing appropriately and get the sale!
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