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The Real Competition

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The Real Competition

Al Gore and Upton Sinclair spotted it: we ignore those facts that make us uncomfortable. Gore's compelling documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" left most of us nodding sagely and promising to do better by our planet.

But we still leave the TV on standby and drive to the newsagent instead of walking.

Upton Sinclair, that flawed but brilliant polemic, made a comment even closer to home for those of us with a sale to make: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

If you worry about losing sales to your competition, you need to understand what, not who, is your competitor. It's not that bunch of cowboys who keep undercutting your prices; it's not the market leader with its stratospheric market budget. It's inaction.

Here's an exercise for you to try: pull out your prospect list for the last twelve months. Look at the sales you didn't get. How many of them were lost to competitors? How many of them just never happened at all? How many of them are still on your list, but the project's on hold?

See what I mean? Who - or rather what - is your main competitor now?

While I'm asking questions, how often do you come out of a sales pitch feeling it was a complete disaster? Pretty unusual isn't it?

You have a compelling, logical proposition; it makes perfect sense for people to buy from you. If that weren't the case you wouldn't survive. So you usually feel that your presentation went well. You probably heard encouraging comments: "That's very interesting; it's something we do need to do." Your prospect list is full of customers who definitely will buy from you. One day.

As for the environment, so for business-to-business purchases: the action happens when the desire for the outcome outweighs the personal inconvenience. Like it or not, your solution almost certainly creates a measure of discomfort. It's unusual these days to deal with a dedicated purchasing department. You're usually talking to a departmental manager or director, and they have their own jobs to concentrate on. They'll consider your swamp drainage proposals once all these alligators are out of the way. Another inconvenient truth is that your customer's principle personal driver is the salary continuation scheme. If your solution involves risk of exposure to criticism, you're pushing string uphill.

The logic behind your proposition is important; of course it is. It'll be used when your customer justifies the purchase to his or her peers. But the spur to make the purchase will come from the desire to acquire the personal benefit you identified.

Business-to-business marketing is effective when it's as personal as a LadyShave. You have to get inside the head of the individual you're dealing with, not just find features and benefits for their market sector. Most people don't do this; it's easier to churn out a lot of formulaic rote. Why? Because the personal approach might be more effective, but it's also more inconvenient. So you're as guilty as your customers. Give up; I've got you surrounded.

In sales and marketing, desire trumps logic every time. That's why we'd rather drive a Ferrari than a Toyota. The reason those stalled sales are still on your prospect list is quite simple: you showed them what they needed, but you didn't make them want it enough. If you can get your head around this single mechanic you might well double your sales.

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