Jun 21, 2012

Disrupting the Loop

No, I’m not talking about a physics or chemistry experiment. I’m describing a very successful sales strategy that is used every day by many and that you can use at the right time to help you succeed when competing with another provider.

Many of us have seen professional engagements that we thought were “a sure thing” unravel at the last moment.  Often, the client brings up an idea or concept that had not been part of our original discussion. Frequently, this happens when a competitor has successfully shifted the decision loop away from areas of our strength to areas of his strength.  Sales pros have a name for this—Disrupting the Loop—and it works.

Take a look at this video of a BASKETBALL team using a FOOTBALL play on the court to score. The other team looks totally sandbagged! They weren’t expecting it, weren’t ready to respond, and were unsuccessful in defending against it. 

How does this work in real life?

One client shared with me how he used this technique to his advantage:

“I was competing with another and larger firm for an O & M (Operations and Maintenance) training contract. I had the advantage, I thought, since I knew all the operators and used to be one myself. But my competitor had raised the issue of perceived quality: he could offer a group of trainers so that the material would be presented by several people, with different styles, and at a competitive price. My contact pointed out that learning styles are diverse and suggested the wisdom of offering operators training from a team of trainers.

“I successfully countered that having the training presented by ONE trainer would make it easier to film and edit the training so that it could be shown to operators who might be hired later, thus reducing the cost of future training sessions . Filming or remote viewing, however, was not part of the original RFP. My having successfully changed the discussion let me continue to compete for the business, which I ultimately won.”

Early in my sales career, I sold Rx health products in hospitals. I hated it. Everyone was forced to follow the same procedure and had the same access; in other words, we all had to play the same game. If you all start from the same place, speak for the same amount of time, and offer roughly the same alternatives, there’s really no competition. In the Rx business, the situation is even worse: price and even “product claims" are controlled by regulation.  I like having the freedom to call a football play on the basketball court.  Don’t you?

Just because you are selling professional services (training, legal representation, engineering studies or drawings, etc.) to a long standing,friendly client, or selling into a situation that you have worked on for weeks, don’t assume that you won’t have competition. You still need to SELL your expertise, capability, and unique abilities to your client. If the opportunity is a great one, there will probably be at least someone else also pitching for the contract.  Ask yourself how can you present yourself in a unique way.  If you are smaller, or newer, or not as well known as your competition, how can you frame the challenge in a way that will play to your strengths, not your weaknesses?

One powerful way to frame your challenge is to reframe it!  When you disrupt the loop, you no longer compete on product, performance, price—all those areas in which you may offer no advantage.  Be creative: envision a scenario in which you DO possess some unique merits—and you’ll come out on top.