Sell Like an Incumbent Even When You’re NotArticle by Colleen Francis, October 13, 2020
Your customer today is in a tough spot when making decisions. If you’re a seller trying to convert new prospects into buyers, you’re feeling the effect.
Having an unprecedented wealth of product information from competing sources vying to be seen as “trusted advisors” has not helped customers make better buying decisions with greater confidence. In fact, it has the opposite effect. As a recent Gartner study points out: “Over half of all B2B buyers reported feeling overwhelmed by the volume of trustworthy information they access.”
Overwhelmed buyers either delay their purchasing decisions or they retreat to what’s safe because they feel they can’t risk making a bad choice. With either of those routes, customers stick with the suppliers they already know. And that’s bad news if you’re not the incumbent in your marketplace.
Your ongoing success in sales hinges on your ability to continually convert new prospects into buyers. That’s why you must position yourself pre-emptively so you can sell like an incumbent…even when you’re not. Here are three ways to make that happen.
1. Leverage your referrals…and move the world.
Archimedes once said (and I’m paraphrasing): give me a big enough lever and I can move the entire world. Referrals are your big lever in today’s marketplace where information is questioned. They tell others the truth about you in ways that you never can on your own. Referrals resonate with buyers because they’re powered by social proof. A happy customer who tells others about their experience has nothing to gain by misleading people. Rather, they’re motivated by the positive effect their good word has on their social status by sharing a solid recommendation with their peers.
Leverage your referrals by including buyers that are seen as influential by your prospective customers. Pay careful attention to complementary services they buy from—such as bankers, accountants, lawyers, and consultants. Next, leverage your network to find more influencers with whom you can do business and earn even more referrals. Don’t just limit your work to obtaining a written blurb. Video testimonials give you an incredible amount of leverage with prospective buyers who are unfamiliar with a new supplier.
2. Be an insider to their association…where it counts.
These days, industry associations are red-hot popular. People have a deep need to feel connected to others in business, especially in uncertain times. They share problems they have in common and find solutions to those problems together. The way that top-ranked sellers used to make this work for them was by showing up and investing in a lot of face-to-face time at industry gatherings and offering to be a guest speaker at sectoral conferences. Of course, these are different times now, but being an insider remains just as powerful and necessary as ever. The only thing that’s changed here is the medium you use to make your presence known.
Go online. Look at where your targeted customers are gathering now. That could include LinkedIn groups, professional association forums, social media feeds, or podcasts. Freely give away meaningful insights you have about problems that matter to your buyer. Don’t just promise results. Show them how you have solved a business problem. Do this by sharing compelling case studies and referrals or by writing articles in their association newsletter. Sharing what you know—and doing so generously—is how you earn trust and greater confidence from people who would otherwise never have an opinion about you.
3. Create internal ubiquity…with everyone you meet.
One of the great dangers of being a reliable seller is that your customer might be tempted to treat you like a best-kept secret, saving you all for themselves. While that might serve them well in securing a reliable source for a much-needed product or service, it’s dangerous for you. You must talk to as many people as possible within your customer’s organization not just to earn your insider status, but to grow it as well. No one else will look after creating this internal ubiquity. It’s up to you to make this happen.
As you do this, don’t make the mistake of determining the value of each new contact based on whether or not they’re decision makers in the organization. Instead, treat each new contact as either a potential buyer, influencer, or spy (i.e., someone who can give you valuable new insights). Every effort you make to build internal ubiquity has the net effect of making you a known quantity in a marketplace populated with incumbents. Match that up with a meaningful message and you can begin to earn the trust of new prospects.
Recognize what pulls buyers to keep returning to their incumbent suppliers: familiarity, trust, and confidence. Each of those factors are driven by how someone feels about their choices—well ahead of the facts. The more familiar you feel to your prospective buyer—especially when you’re not the incumbent—the more receptive they will be to the well-considered case you want to make to them