I was the sales manager for a mid-sized software company that competed regularly against the software industry giants. We had better functionality than any of our competition, but sometimes the customer thought bigger was better.

We were in the final stages of a major enterprise-wide sale that would make my sales rep’s and my year, so I frequently went on sales calls with my rep. This particular call was to the corporate controller who we had determined had the final say in product selection.

Our biggest fear going into the call was that he had already made up his mind and had chosen our competition. Our plan was to understand his personal selection criteria, find out what his objections to selecting us were, and get him on our side.

Fortunately for me, Eric W., the sales person, was a master at pre-call planning. In calling on other parts of the organization he had discovered that the controller’s major hot button was Return on Investment and that he never finalized a decision until he had a detailed ROI and rarely went against the numbers. He also discovered the companies ROI calculation methodology and payback hurdles. He built a presentation comparing our payback versus the competition and had a spreadsheet to provide the details. To say the least – we were ready.

The call went smoothly in the beginning, we had no trouble establishing business rapport and establishing that we were indeed one of the two finalists being considered. Even though Eric was doing most of the asking, the controller was directing all of his answers toward me. It seemed he felt I was more of a peer given his position. So I decided to ask him what we needed to show him in order to convince him we were the right company to go with.

He immediately listed 4 things that were keeping him from choosing us and although one was price, he didn’t mention ROI. I could see by the look on Eric’s face, he thought we were doomed, but, to his credit, he regrouped. He restated all four objections and asked “what else”. The controller said those four were it, and his major issue was the price. We were 20% higher than our competition, and there was no way he could justify the difference. I had authority to discount 10% without corporate approval, but Eric’s ROI calculation was based on our list price.

Eric’s next question pulled the controller’s attention away from me and got him laser focused on him. “If we could show you that even at a higher price we were actually the better value for your company, would that at least put us on equal footing with our competition?” After a minute of silence staring eye to eye with Eric the controller said yes and asked how we proposed to show that value.

Eric then opened his laptop and went through his brief ROI presentation. When the controller said he needed more details, Eric went through the details on the printed spreadsheet. The controller was impressed. Eric asked, “Given this new information, would you consider us at least equal to our competition?” The controller said, “No, you are clearly the better value. I need to check out these numbers with my staff, and if they are correct, we will be doing business.”

We never addressed the other 3 objections. A week later our proposal was approved and several weeks after that we got the order. The moral of the story – always understand the real objection!

Joe Duklewski

GDA VP of Sales

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