If you watch neighborhood kids choose teams for any sport, it is a little emotionally brutal. Biggest, oldest and fastest kids get chosen first, friends get chosen second, and unknowns get chosen last. The one redeeming thing about this process is that at the end, every one gets to play. Not so much the same in the world of selling bigger contracts to bigger companies.
True, in purchasing decisions, a similar sandlot process happens. Companies who are looking to buy products or services look out at the available options and consider for the key contracts, in order:
- Most experienced
- Fastest (specialized)
You’ll notice that the unknowns don’t even make the list. And that’s the problem: how do you break into a new market or into a new buyers’ table if you are relatively unknown compared to the other players? You have to move yourself aggressively into one of the four categories listed, and preferably as high up the list as you can get. Most of the time this is an issue of proper framing.
Here are some techniques for changing how buyers see your company and consider you for selection:
If you are not one of the Fortune 500 companies, you can still change the perception of your size by using the comparative language as long as the reference is relevant to the opportunity. For example, a construction company who was bidding on a hospital project was the smallest of the three finalists up for consideration. However, they were able to say that they:
- Built more medical facilities in the county and surrounding counties than all of the other competitors
- Employed more local labor full time than their competitors
Look at your company through the lens with which your buyer sees you. Now think about what you can do to change your buyer’s lens. Control their lens and you win.
Lens shift is a theme in all of these ideas, but for experience, you have to dig a little deeper into the project or problem itself. Your experience must feel as if it is a perfect fit, tailor-made to the problem that the buyer wants to solve. In the previous example, the way that was accomplished was by emphasizing the experience in medical gases. Now that only represented a fraction of the spend, but the construction company shifted the lens. Their point was that all of the construction materials would be the same, all of the construction methods would be the same and all of the plans were the same. They convinced the buyers that the only real place for differentiation would be in the handling of the mechanical contracting for the medical gases in which their experience was unrivaled.
This lens work is all about unique ability. One company we worked with had been commoditized in their ability to provide programming services on a very large platform system. The issue was that everyone who was certified at a “gold” level on that system should be technically capable of providing equal quality programming. That is a recipe for commoditization. They changed the conversation by saying the following:
“If you need your project completed in a year, any of the “gold” providers can do it. If you need it in 6 months, there are 4-5 companies we can recommend. If you need this completed and fully functional in 3 months, you’re stuck- we’re it. We are the 3 month company.” Changing the language away from capability and moving it to specialty changes the lens.
Friendships and relationships are great. They transfer confidence and trust and will get you a nibble, a seat at the table, some scraps. However, in bigger deals, this is not where you end the conversation; it is where you start it. I have heard that “selling is all about relationships” for longer than I can remember. This is the kind of stuff that supposed elders spout off as if it were wisdom. They say it as if selling were just about relationships. Maybe this was the case back when dinosaurs walked the earth. Not any more. Everyone on the finalist list has relationships with the buyers. If you end your approach there, then you will, at the very best, get scraps. If you are entering new markets, new areas or are selling to new buyers in your old clients, you will need to change your buyers lens to put your company in the best light possible. Get the lenses right and the picture will come into focus in your favor.