Selective Selling: When Times Are Tough, Make Your Standards Tougher

By Dave Stein, The Stein Advantage

Don't take on just anyone as a client or customer. Consultant, trainer and author Dave Stein offers a wealth of insights on who to avoid . . . and why.

If you're in the position of having to bring in new business, you might be feeling a bit desperate. We all know times are tough and money is tight. It may seem that now is the time to take on any business that comes your way. After all, you still have revenue targets to achieve, expenses to cover and stakeholders to whom you must account. Well, hold on to your hat. The surprising truth-according to a leading sales expert, consultant and trainer-is that you should actually play a little "hard to get."

"In economically challenging times, you need to be much more discerning when it comes to which companies or firms you bring on as a customer or client," says Dave Stein, president of The Stein Advantage and author of the book How Winners Sell: 21 Proven Strategies to Outsell Your Competition and Win the Big Sale.. "Who makes up that revenue shortfall? The prospective new customers who can provide you with better quality business, and selected existing customers on whom you may not have been focusing appropriate resources."

So whom should you shun in your efforts to be selective? Stein offers the following characteristics of prospective customers or clients whose business you should consider not pursuing:

  • Companies whose financial viability is in question. This one is pretty easy. By the time they evaluate your company and your products or services, they may not be able to pay for what it is that they need, if they are still around at all. Of course, there have been many successful sales to companies who were in trouble and, in the long run, everything turned out well for both parties, nevertheless this is an issue that must be carefully considered.

  • Companies that do not have a specific, immutable need for your products or services. If, for example, you provide services that will help a prospective customer comply with a new, impending government regulation, that company will have to go forward with someone, or risk heavy fines or worse. They will most likely have to make an investment by a specific date. On the other hand, companies who are investigating solutions for "infrastructure work," or "nice-to-haves," may like what they see, but may not make a decision to go forward for weeks, months, quarters, or even years.

    And you will have wasted valuable resources pursuing that business, at the expense of other new or existing customers who had a need and a timeframe during which they had to make an investment.

  • Problematic customers or clients. We all have them. These are companies that for one reason or another force us to expend money, time, resources, energy and lose sleep, just because they are difficult to do business with, intentionally or not. They may be litigious, shortsighted in their view of the world around them, unsophisticated, or they may just feel that vendors and suppliers are there only to be abused. If they act this way before they buy, things are likely to get worse once they are customers.

  • Customers for whom price is the most important buying criterion. Sure, we all look for bargains. But getting into a business relationship with a company who is only interested in how much of a discount they can squeeze from you is bad business-unless your business model supports that. Buyers who abrade away any added value your company can provide so they can compare "apples to apples"-and get the lowest price-are looking for win-lose. They win, you lose. So if you don't have some unique value you will provide to a prospective customer, which he or she has acknowledged and will benefit from, you are about to be commoditized.

  • Customers who have requirements you can't readily meet. Sure, I know that businesses grow by stretching a bit on occasion, selling something before you build it, committing to resources you have yet to hire. But there is a line you can't cross. If your product or service doesn't meet your prospect's key business requirements, and you have not openly discussed this fact with your prospect, along with potential alternatives, don't go after that business. It will cost you in big ways. It may sully your reputation or even lead to your becoming the defendant in a lawsuit. It happens all the time.

  • Customers with "marquee" names. Of course we all want to enjoy the marketing value of having the Global 200 or the most prestigious law firm in town as our newest customer or client. But I've had some costly experiences with such companies. They may set unrealistic expectations of how much business they will provide, make unrealistic demands on you because of who they are, and forbid you to use their name in your marketing efforts. You'll wind up spending a lot more time selling to these companies, with tougher competition, and may never reap the rewards you desire.

In short, says Stein, if you do hold potential business opportunities to a higher standard during these challenging times-as counterintuitive as it may seem-you'll be making an investment that will pay off for many years to come. You'll be able to provide higher levels of value to higher quality companies. And that's a winning combination.

"One last thought," he adds. "There is no better time than now to 'fire' some customers. You can apply the above criteria to a small percentage of your customers who have been unprofitable for you, or problematic, or unable to offer you enough business to justify the effort to maintain a relationship. Redeploy the resources being squandered on them to real partners with whom you can grow and be profitable going forward."

21 Proven Strategies To Outsell Your Competition and Win The Big Sale, by Dave Stein

Selling skills may be one of those things that come naturally to some people, but if you are like the rest of us you will find Dave Stein's new book well worth your time. In this book, Stein presents practical strategies spiced with real world examples of what works and what doesn't. Selling is still a relationship game, but after reading this book, you will also learn how to leverage the new technologies and become a more effective seller. In a way the book read like an updated sales version of "Getting to Yes".


About the Author:

Before he founded his consultancy, The Stein Advantage, Inc., in 1997, Dave Stein was employed by several leading-edge high-tech companies in a diversity of roles: programmer, systems engineer, sales representative, sales manager, director of worldwide sales development, VP of sales, VP of marketing, VP of international operations, VP of client services, and VP of strategic alliances.

During the early 1990s, Dave lived and sold in Europe, commencing international operations for the technology company he helped to build, Datalogix International (which was later acquired by Oracle). In the decade since, Dave has focused on coaching experienced sales teams in 48 states and 20 countries. His unique skills in competitive sales strategies and political positioning have helped thousands of sales professionals win hundreds of millions of dollars of business against insurmountable odds. Specializing in large, complex opportunities, Dave is much in demand as a speaker, consultant, coach, and trainer. He has worked with companies small and large, from $5 million in sales to the Fortune 100, including IBM, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, Invensys plc, NEC, ALLTEL, Pitney Bowes, Bayer and Siemens.

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