Getting customers to switch
By Dave Kahle
Q. I have many customers who refuse to even consider some of my products because the one they have now is working fine and they don’t want to change something that is working well for them. They feel they are opening themselves to potential dangers, problems and nightmares by fixing something that isn’t broken. Any suggestion for how to deal with the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude?
A. This is one that frustrates every sales person. Let’s start by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. You’ve shown him your product, and it’s noticeably better/cheaper than what they are currently using. Or, they won’t even take the time to look at your latest and greatest solution. Regardless of where you are in the sales process, the problem is that you have something better, and they won’t budge from using an inferior solution.
Why not? Let’s analyze the situation. As is almost always the case, the solution becomes really obvious when we have done a good job of analyzing the problem. So, let’s consider the reasons why the customer won’t budge. Here are the big three.
1. The perceived benefit from switching the product is not worth the time and effort the customer must invest in the change process.
OK, so your LAGS (latest and greatest solution) will save him 5%. But, he must work off his old inventory, notify the current supplier, switch all the numbers in his purchasing and inventory systems, perhaps rewrite protocols, maybe train staff in the new thing, communicate the change so that everyone internally knows about it, etc. See the problem? It takes time, effort and money to change a product. And most of your customers, if they are like most of the business world these days, have too much to do and not enough time in which to do it. They don’t need another project. So, while your LAGS is an improvement, the improvement just isn’t worth the time and effort.
2. The potential change infringes on a well-established relationship.
It may be that the current product is being purchased as part of a committed relationship with the competition. And it may be that the competitor performs other services for this customer that would be jeopardized if the customer didn’t buy this product from them. For example, the competitor may invite this customer to an annual outing to his condo on the beach in Florida. If the customer switches this item, he may believe that it jeopardize that. Or, the competitor inventories the product for them, provides special dating, packages it specially, etc.
The issue here is that switching the product harms an existing relationship, and the relationship is more important to the customer than the savings or benefit of your product.
This relationship issue can also extend to the individual. In other words, the customer has a long-standing excellent relationship with the competitive sales person. And the customer doesn’t want to do anything that might be seen as jeopardizing that relationship. In either case, the relationship trumps the benefits of your product.
3. The risk isn’t worth it.
Every decision to buy carries with it a perception of risk. Risk is defined by the perceived cost to the individual customer if he/she makes a mistake. Think of it this way: What happens to the individual decision maker if he decides to switch to your product, and it doesn’t work out the way you portray it? Maybe the product doesn’t quite work as smoothly as it seems, or your ability to deliver isn’t what you promised. What grief does that cause the customer? What emotional turmoil, job stress, and personal pain does it cause?
Now, I know that you’re saying none of that will happen because you really do have a great product and you really are a wonderful company, and you won’t let anything bad happen. You may believe that, but your customer doesn’t.
If the customer perceives there to be great risk in the decision, the status quo is always the safer, preferred choice. It’s always safer to maintain the non-painful status quo than it is to take a major risk.
OK, you have analyzed the reasons why this particular customer isn’t rushing to order your LAGS. Now what?
Your solution is based on your analysis of the reason why they don’t buy. If the reason is the customer views the benefit of changing as not worth the effort, then you must either reduce the effort, or increase the perceived benefit. Offer to do as much of the work of changing as you can. Provide all the information in an easy-to-use format so that it is easy to put into the computer. Offer to write the memo announcing the change, to train all the employees in the details of the new thing, etc. Make it less costly in terms of time and effort.
Or, make the benefit appear bigger and more attractive. Do some financial justification. Show the impact on processes and the customer’s customer. Make your product even more compelling.
If the reason they don’t buy is number two, your best hope is to convince the customer that the change won’t jeopardize the existing relationship. Minimize the impact on the competitor. And, again, maximize the benefit of your product.
This is the most difficult situation to deal with, because the reason they aren’t buying is something about which you can’t do much – a relationship with a competitor. You may be reduced to the fall back position of last resort – proactively wait for something to change in your customer’s relationship with the competition.
If the reason they don’t buy is risk, your strategy is to reduce the perception of risk. Remember, risk is perception, not necessarily reality. The problem is that the customer perceives there to be risk to him in the decision to buy. So, reduce the customer’s perception of risk by using a combination of risk-reducing tactics. Make the product seem more real by having him see it in operation in a different customer’s environment. Back it up with written guarantees and warranties. Make it seem like a lot of people have successfully used the product by having pictures of other customers using it. Acquire letters of recommendation and testimonials from other customers. Anything you can do to have someone else, beside yourself, say good things about the product is a worthwhile effort. Bring the customer into your facility, and let him meet the people who make things happen for you. All of these things reduce the risk to the customer.
One final thought. Understand that our customers are far more motivated to take action by the avoidance of pain than they are the acquisition of some benefit. We are so used to talking about the benefit of our product to the customer, and that often falls on deaf ears. Far more powerful is the perception that our solution makes some intense pain go away. If you can identify some significant pain that the customer is experiencing, and show how your LAGS makes the pain go away, you will have provided the customer significant motivation to shove all three of the above reasons down the list.
By the way, you’ll find this kind of insight into dozens of sales issues in our Sales Resource Center. It houses 435 training programs to help every one live more successfully and sell better. All delivered over the internet, 24/7, for one low monthly fee.
Dave Kahle has invested a career in changing how people think of themselves and their jobs, and communicating a compelling vision of what it means to be a professional distributor salesperson. For information on the "I Can" Selling seminars and other resources, visit www.davekahle.com, or call 800-331-1287.