Sales

How Good Are They, Really?

If you sell for a smaller company against the behemoths that dominate your industry, you know that their superior resources can make them tough competitors. They have whole staffs that can support their sales teams, unlimited entertainment and expense budgets, slick materials, broad product offerings, and of course, excellent salespeople.

Anyone home?

Anyone home?

That’s great. You have them right where you want them. All of those advantages carry their own weaknesses that can be attacked and exploited by a smart challenger from a smaller company. Anthony Iannarino recently wrote an excellent article in Success magazine explaining how Davids can beat Goliaths, and I won’t re-cover that ground in this article, but I will comment on the quality of their salespeople.

On the surface, their sales teams look unbeatable. They have extensive training, they are professional and polished.  But when you scratch the surface, things aren’t always quite what they seem. In a class I taught earlier this week, one of the participants had been in charge of purchasing a certain class of products for a major corporation, a position which made him one of the best customers for the industry leader. His experience was that, below the executive ranks, their salespeople were actually quite mediocre. This point resonated with my own experience, in which I’ve run across salespeople who leave large companies and struggle to find success with smaller employers.

The Goliath salesperson is used to having doors open automatically for them. Whenever a sales opportunity comes up, they automatically have a seat at the table, and in fact the deals may often be theirs to lose rather than those they have to claw and scratch for.

It’s human nature to take the path of least resistance, and when you don’t need certain skills, they atrophy.

  • When you can dictate the criteria on the RFP, you don’t need to engage imagination to figure out unaddressed needs the customer has in order to change the rules.
  • When you can get through to the decision maker easily you don’t have to figure out innovative ways to get their attention.
  • When no one ever got fired for buying your brand, you don’t need to learn how to painstakingly build up a clear business case.
  • When your top executives can call theirs to put doubters in their place, you don’t need to learn how to handle objections properly.

If you work for small company, the way to beat the big companies is to do precisely those things that the big guys don’t think they need to do or have forgotten how to do. Do the research on your customer’s needs, use your imagination to find insights the big guys are too lazy to find, develop allies at all levels, and use them to supply the numbers for your business case.

When you do these things, ask the questions of the customer to get them to put the big guys’ feet to the fire and force them to go back to the difficult basics, and chances are that they will come up short. I once was shortlisted against three of the largest sales training companies, and I suggested to the prospect that they pay careful attention to whether their salespeople used the very same tools they were selling; every single one failed the test, and that damaged their credibility. When the Emperor is shown to have no clothes, it can be an ugly sight.

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