Because of price pressure, office technology organizations and salespeople are grappling with how to sell against a cheaper price. There is always someone with a cheaper machine and people are even will to sell what appears to be the same thing for a ridiculously low price. Unfortunately, most focus on the wrong strategy to defeat price competition. When faced with, "I can get it somewhere else cheaper" or "Your price is too high," the most common response is to try to find a way to lower your price reducing your margins and income. A better strategy against price pressure is to increase the customer's perception of value from the beginning of the sales process.
History is full of industries, companies, and even individuals who have tried to win by discounting and lowering their price. Unless you are the lowest cost provider, you can not win the discount game. Being able to sell against a cheaper price is essential to survival for all companies and salespeople.
To sell your value, begin by understanding what customers "perceive" as valuable. Research indicates in products customers value quality, capability, reliability, and productivity. In services they value confidence, trust, reputation, resources behind the organization, and reduced risk. Make your job of selling value easier by building these into your products, services, and marketing material.
To win the value battle, you must take a proactive approach to creating, communicating, and delivering value to your customers. This approach will build long-term customer relationships, improve loyalty, and increase results. It is a much better strategy to build value than discount price because both you and the customer win.
The first step in creating and communicating value is to understand who your customers are and, most importantly, what their needs are. Only when you understand different categories or types of customers can you know how they are different, how they are similar, what they value, and, most importantly, what they will pay for.
This examination of customers and potential customers will help determine the price level or premium they are willing to pay for products and services. For example, a customer may pay more for an innovative capability that other options do not provide. Some customers, no matter how high they perceive your value, have little ability to pay the price premium. Many others have the ability to pay if they feel your premium is justified. We have found this group is larger than most people think.
IDENTIFYING YOUR STRENGTHS
Knowing the types of customers you serve is not enough. You must know individual customers and their specific needs. By understanding each customer's situation and the problems they want to solve by using your products or service, you will be able to determine their real need. Most importantly, when you know the results the customer wants or gets from using your products and services, you'll then be able to determine your product or service's true benefit or value.
It is critical to examine your company to determine the “real” value your products or services deliver to customers. Our experience in workshops and seminars indicates that, while some understand their customers, few do a good job of self-analysis. Top management must understand the real value they provide and, if not known, needs to conduct an analysis to carefully examine the organization, its products, and its services from the customer's point-of-view.
Self-knowledge is power. To understand your organization, ask questions such as these: "What do you do so well that you far exceed a competitor?", "Why have current customers chosen you?", "What is truly unique and valuable about your products and services?", "In what ways are you vulnerable?", "In the past, why have you lost business or customers?", and "Why would someone not buy from you?" The answers to these questions will provide the self-knowledge and increase awareness of your value.
Once you know your customers and know yourselves, it is imperative that you develop a perception or an awareness of your value. The first step after knowing your value is that you must know and clearly communicate it to your employees. If top management perceives the value being delivered but employees who deal with customers everyday do not, it will not be communicated to the customer. The employee at the customer’s location is your most effective messenger. Make sure they know and, every importantly, believe the message.
VALUE-BASED SERVICES AND PRODUCTS
A company can increase its perceived value and make selling easier by creating "value-based" service and products. These products are helpful because they allow the customer to easily make a commitment or buying decision. The industry has long since learned that service based products are a key to profit. Adding a value quotient or element only makes sense. They not only formalize the relationship and commitment the customer has to the company, but they also provide a structure that makes customers feel more comfortable with the relationship. Few customers like open-ended type relationships where conditions, cost, and value are unspecified. An hourly rate does not define cost, only the method of determining cost. An example of a “service-based” product is one that combines specific services to meet the customer needs into a package for a specific price. A value-based service moves beyond a fixed number of time units and is based on the value to the customer.
Once you have created a perception of value within the organization, it must be communicated to the customer. Many times you hear, "We are much better than the competition, but our customers just don't seem to understand." This classic communication problem occurs because a customer's actions and decisions are not based on facts, but their perception of facts. If a company or system has a strength or value that is not fully communicated to and accepted by the customer, it has no effect on the customer’s buying decision.
Many people think about mailings, press releases, and other public relation devices as communication. These are important; however, you must not forget to simply pick up the phone and periodically call your valuable customers. Use old-fashioned, proven methods to keep them informed and stay connected.
A very simple way to ensure this happens is to divide your customer list or rolodex into sections by alphabet and call them at preset intervals. For example, by dividing the customer list and calling seven letters per week, you can ensure that you talk to all customers within a month. You may determine frequency by account size, market type, or any other method and use your sales contact management software to schedule it. It doesn’t matter whether it is high tech or low tech scheduling, it just must be “high touch” in staying connected. Try calling your customers to check on them, not just to handle a problem or to sell something and see if the results don't soon appear. Provide more value than other organizations by going above and beyond.
It is easy to get in a hurry and not take time to communicate well. You must also take the time to let customers know what you have done for them. If you have gone the "extra mile" and corrected a problem, the customer must be told this or it will have little value because on the surface it may have appeared routine.
Another simple but powerful technique that many people forget or don’t do well in large organizations is to take the time at the end of each service or support visit to explain what has been done, answer any questions, thank them for their business, and tell them to call if they have any difficulty. Many times we tell the employees who work with a system or at a remote location and rely on them to tell the decision maker and the communication doesn’t get through. This simple but often overlooked communication technique not only builds relationships, but it also builds the perception of value.
The best products and services in the world will not be effective in producing sales unless the salesperson selling them has both the skills and the confidence to sell against a lower price. Many times people rely on product or service superiority to sell itself. As competition gets greater, the difference between winning and losing a sale, many times, is a salesperson. It is essential to have a good product—that is competition, but most times customer perception and sales effectiveness are what determine sales results.
A salesperson's results can be boiled down to the interaction of the two primary factors of sales skill level and sales activity level. Our High Performance Formula of "Skills x Activity Re$ult$" predicts success. Even if significant numbers of prospects are generated by advertising and the company’s reputation, unless the salesperson has a high level of sales skills and confidence, the results will be lost sales. Even a highly skilled salesperson cannot be successful unless he or she has a sufficient activity level and generate ample prospects. If you would like to know whether increasing sales skills or activity levels pays greater dividends, e-mail outlawgroup.com and request the Sales Productivity Report.
Today, in everything you do, you must serve the customer very well. It is your primary determinant of success. First, you must determine what is customer service? Many times in a high-tech or service company, it is easy to loose sight of what service really is. It is not a service call or even fixing a problem, it is everything the customer experiences about your company. Even if the problem is resolved, the perception of good service will not be there unless everything else is perceived as top-notch.
You cannot successfully compete on price unless you have the most efficient, lowest cost operation. Even when you are the most efficient, someone else can become more efficient; or worse is willing to sell at a loss. Selling on price may be like a gunfighter in the old west. If you live by the gun; you will die by the gun. There was always a faster gun and today’s corollary is that there is always someone willing to sell at a lower price. This may be why few gunfighters or companies that sell on price survive long.
Research has even indicated that very few people buy the cheapest price. For you to get out of the “lower price trap” and be successful now and in the future, you must continually increase the customer's perceived value.