By Patrick McClure
[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]T[/dropcaps]he number one issue I hear about from associates, clients, and partners is a very real and growing fear of becoming commoditized.
Here is an all-too-familiar scenario:
After numerous meetings with your client, detailed fact finding, many internal team planning sessions, and a heck of a lot of hard work writing and submitting your proposal, you have been given the distressing news that the business was awarded to another vendor. You thought you had the best solution and a good price, excellent relationships and a good team in place. So why did you lose?
During your follow up investigation, you find out your prospect went out on the internet, researched all your competitors and “shopped” your proposal seeking a lower price. At the last minute, another company who knew nothing about your customer and their business needs submitted a lowball bid and snatched the deal away. In short, you were lumped into the mix and got commoditized.
Is there anything you could have done to change the outcome? What steps could you take to avoid being treated as “just another vendor”? Is there any way to separate your company from the pack? Read on…
The Commoditization Conundrum
In his recently published book “Entering the Shift Age”, futurist David Houle writes about the epic transformations that are changing our lives as we proceed into the 21st century, shifting from the Information Age into the “Shift Age.” In this age (circa 2010-2050), change is the norm, the individual has the power, and traditional methods of decision making and authority are disappearing just like dinosaurs.
One of the biggest changes (no surprise here!!) is universal access to massive amounts of information instantly available on any device, located anywhere and at any time globally. Even ancient “Baby Boomers” such as myself have learned how to quickly navigate the internet to find information about practically anything. Quick access to business data via Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and hundreds of other information portals guarantee that we never go into a business meeting unprepared. It is staggering how much information exists and is being created in this “Big Data” environment. And the future generations – the Millennials and the Digital Natives – demonstrate amazing familiarity and expertise as they effortlessly cruise through Cyberspace.
Since anyone can access this vast amount of free data, it’s a snap to check out competitors and shop for information and bids online. There are dozens of apps available to help with reverse auctions, finding discounts or deals, and evaluating the best bargains. In short, the Internet has trained all of us to shop online and to research online to find the best deals. Why would we expect our prospects to be any different?
The problem, it seems, is how to differentiate yourself and your company from “everyone else.” Since everyone is online, and everyone is offering very similar products/services at basically the same price (or cheaper), what can we do to stand out? How can we avoid being made a commodity? Furthermore, if your entire sales effort can be negated with someone else’s cheaper price, why bother to hire and train a sales team? Why not just sell everything as cheaply as possible on the internet? Why not eliminate sales entirely and do everything over the web?
The Difference is You
Despite all of the self-serving attempts being made to commoditize everything, I maintain that business is personal. People still buy from people they trust and respect, and I hope and pray that will never change. There are millions of real estate agents, bankers, insurance agents, financial planners, dentists and doctors. So why do we stay with the same company year after year? It’s because someone inside that company at some point made a personal impact on our lives, and we made an emotional decision that we could trust that person, and therefore we could trust that company.
In the B2B world, most businesses pretend to make acquisitions based just on the facts. They put together complicated RFP’s, assemble selection teams to evaluate and score each and every buying criteria, and they pride themselves on making decisions completely devoid of “personalities.” Yet in almost every major decision, we find that it comes down to one person (CEO, President, key board member) deciding that they like and can trust another person. At the end of the day, we need to trust that that company will honor their commitment and will deliver what they promised.
One of my former clients was an international oil company. On the day before Christmas, there was a significant incident at one of their refineries, and my company received the emergency call. Our service department (personally assigned, on a first name basis, on-call 24×7) responded immediately, called in top level software engineers over the holiday, and fixed the problem within a few short hours. That prompt action saved our client almost $1 MM in what would have been lost revenue. What do you think happened when that service contract came up for renewal? Do you think our client would seriously entertain a lower cost bid?
The major difference between your company and the competition is YOU! Part of the unique value proposition (UVP) that you bring to the market is yourself. The biggest challenge we all face as sales professionals is how to differentiate ourselves and show our unique value. If we understand that we are a key part of the business solution, then we need to figure out how to tell our story better. If business is personal, what are we doing to make it MORE personal? How are we improving our relationships with our existing and future clients? What steps are we taking to connect with our clients in a meaningful way? How are we adding value to the relationship?
Your major defense against losing business, and your chief weapon at winning new clients, is your ability to establish trust and rapport. As we enter the Shift Age, and more and more prospects are learning about you online, it’s important to use online tools to help create this positive image and visibility. If you’re getting introduced “online”, then make the effort to present a professional image which builds trust and rapport. This will lay the proper groundwork for future personal interactions.
Remember, the initial impressions your prospect receives are critical, so make sure that your online impression is positive.
There are dozens of ways to improve how you connect with your prospects and customers, limited only to your imagination. Business people make decisions emotionally, and then justify them with the facts. Make sure you’re establishing trust and rapport — online and personally – and you’ll win a greater share of those deals!
According to Dana Borowka, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC (www.lighthouseconsulting.com) and author of Cracking the Personality Code, hiring the right people is key to future growth. If you would like additional information on raising the hiring bar, please click here to see an article on this subject.
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Patrick McClure is a Senior Sales & Customer Service Training Consultant of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC, and is a speaker, trainer, consultant, and author who enjoys working with individuals and corporations to help them achieve maximum performance. He has dedicated his practice to helping others become more successful. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA 90403, (310) 453-6556, email@example.com & our website: www.lighthouseconsulting.com
Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. To order the books, “Cracking the Personality Code” and “Cracking the Business Code”, please go to www.lighthouseconsulting.com.