GUEST AUTHOR BLOG by Geoffrey James author of: "How to Say It: Business to Business Selling."
Selling for a small firm is harder than selling for a large one. Your customer may never have heard of your firm, there’s probably not much sales support, and you likely can’t spend big money to develop and close an account. Nevertheless, it’s not just possible, but downright easy, to outsell the big guys.
All you need are these simple rules:
• Strategy #1: Differentiate Yourself and Your Firm. To compete with a larger firm there’s got to have something different. Your product must higher quality, easier to use, more convenient to buy, or a better fit than the competition’s. Or you must be better able to help customer clarify their needs and craft a solution. Or you’ve got to be at the customer’s service faster. Or, better yet, all of the above.
• Strategy #2: Treat Your Weaknesses as Strengths. Customers may not know your firm (a weakness) but they don't have negative preconceptions either (a strength). You may not have an expense account for a fancy lunch (a weakness) but you can show your customer that you don’t waste money (a strength). Your firm might have meager higher prices (a weakness) but you’re willing to craft flexible terms (a strength.)
• Strategy #3: Exhibit Extreme Confidence. People who sell for small firms can scuttle their credibility by trying to explain away the inexperience or size of their firm. Savvy customers smell that fear and see it as a signal to demand steep discounts or concessions. Convince yourself (and thence the customer) that a customer would be foolish or crazy to buy from anyone else.
• Strategy #4: Don’t be Afraid to Bail. Wishful thinking can propel you into a world of wasted effort. Once it becomes clear that a deal doesn't make sense or will take to much effort to close, it's not worth pursuing. For example, if you can't meet with the REAL decision-maker, you aren't going to get the business. So move on to the next prospect, without regrets.
• Strategy #5: Be Your Company’s Brand. A “brand experience” is the emotion a customer feels when buying or using a product. A sales rep working for IBM or Bristol Myers only needs a business card to create a brand experience. By contrast, when you're selling for a small firm, the “brand experience” consists of YOUR appearance, YOUR voice, and YOUR ability to solve problems.
• Strategy #6: Think Like an Entrepreneur. Since your firm lacks the infrastructure of a larger firm, the only person you can trust to get things done is YOU. Be frugal with your time and resources, and constantly find creative ways to get things done more quickly and easily. Remember: “activity” multiplied by “hours spent” equals “sales results.” Make everything you do lead towards those results.
• Strategy #7: No Free Consulting. When a customer asks you do to something for free, your response must ALWAYS be to ask for something comparable in return. For example, if a customer asks you to provide them with an RFP based upon 35 pages of questions, insist that you'll only do the work if you're guaranteed a meeting with the CEO to present your solution.
• Strategy #8: Have a Low Threshold of “NO.” Never cave to a customer who's being unreasonable. Maybe your larger competitor can afford to kowtow in order to win the business, but you don't have the luxury of being anything less than the best. And the best in any industry NEVER truckle. Be cooperative but be constantly aware of your true worth to the customer.
• Strategy #9: Be Your Firm’s Greatest Strength. Top executives don't have the time to sit with down with cookie-cutter sales reps, but they always have time for somebody who can redefine problems and devise solutions. If you can truly add value, you’re the most valuable person that CEO will meet with that day, maybe that month, maybe even that year.
• Strategy #10: Take Responsibility for Your Skills. Big firms have the money to hire professional sales trainers, run sales mentoring programs, and employ sales managers to coach novices. In a small firm, it’s up to you (and you alone) to constantly hone your sales skills, learn new sales techniques, and develop your sales career.
Geoffrey James, an award-winning journalist and author, writes a daily column on selling for Inc.com. He previously wrote Sales Machine, the world's most-visited sales-oriented blog, and has written hundreds of articles for publications like Technology Marketing and SellingPower. James' new book, based on his most popular columns (by reader acclaim), is How to Say It: Business to Business Selling (Prentice Hall, December 2011.)