In a recent survey, we asked salespeople the following question: “Think of your largest revenue-producing customer. If that customer said, ‘I want a 10 percent discount, or I will bid this out,’ would you give the customer a discount?”
Seventy-two percent of participants indicated they would discount. The mere threat of a bidding situation prompts salespeople to discount. Experienced buyers know that when they ask for a discount, they easily get it. Why wouldn’t they ask for it?
Our internal research shows that salespeople fail to hold the line on pricing because they fear losing the business. In a recent seminar, we had a group of salespeople perform a simple exercise. The group was instructed to share an example of a recent piece of business they lost because they held the line when the customer asked for a discount. The result was compelling. The group couldn’t complete the exercise. They couldn’t remember the last time they actually held the line on pricing. The group explained that their fear of losing the business was greater than the commitment to sell their value added.
Experienced buyers know salespeople fear losing business. Buyers use this pressure to get discounts. However, value-added salespeople steer the conversation toward value, not price.
Here are some ideas to help you steer the conversation away from price.
Ask the buyer questions that call attention to non-price issues.
For example, “What is the biggest problem you’re experiencing?” In a recent seminar, one salesperson explained that he asks this question on every sales call. Furthermore, he would have the buyer show him the problem area in their facility. He would engage additional people impacted and understand their issues. He explained that focusing on the customer’s biggest problems keeps the focus off the price.
Ask questions to reveal the buyer’s pressure points.
The party who feels more pressure in a negotiation will make the most concessions. Buyers often make sellers feel more pressure to sell. Buyers will say, “I can find this cheaper somewhere else,” or “I have several other options that I am reviewing.” Buyers do this to gain a discount.
However, buyers also feel pressure to buy your solution. If the buyer is more aware of their pressure points, price is less of an issue. For example, here are some pressure points a buyer might be experiencing:
- Strong sense of urgency
- Buyer has a preference for your company
- Buyer has had a negative experience with your competitor
- There are few substitute solutions
Dig for these pressure points when you are talking to the buyer. Ask them about their timeline and previous experiences. If the buyer previously purchased from you, discuss the previous experience and their satisfaction.
Ask the buyer questions that cause them to think long term.
It’s natural for buyers to think short term. Humans have a temporal bias for the short term. We seek instant gratification. For buyers, a cheap price is the immediate, short-term gain they naturally seek. Therefore, we have to stretch the buyer’s time horizon, so they think long term.
A pricing conversation is a short-term, transactional conversation. Ask questions that focus on long-term outcomes and not short-term transactions.
For example, “Fast forward to the end of the project. What is the ideal outcome?” Or, “At the end of this project, what outcome do you expect?” Or, “What are your long-term goals for this project?” These questions transport the buyer to the future where the focus is on outcomes, not price.
There is one thing buyers need more than a cheap price: reassurance. Buyers demand a discount because they don’t want to overpay. Anytime you are dealing with a scarce resource like money, people are afraid of misusing it. Buyers want to make sure they are getting the best deal. We have all experienced the anxiety of paying full price today and then seeing it discounted the next day.
Rather than giving the buyer an immediate discount, reassure them that they are getting the best deal for the money. When we deny the buyer’s request for a discount, they feel a sense of relief. The buyer is relieved because they are close to getting the best deal possible. If they are getting the best deal, it means they have spent their resources wisely.
When buyers ask for a discount, most salespeople reward them with a discount. Salespeople have trained buyers to ask for a discount. Most of the price resistance salespeople experience is a result of self-inflicted wounds. Redirect the conversation down a path of value, not price. Call attention to non-price issues and focus on the long-term outcome. The next time a customer asks for a discount, don’t take the easy way out. Find the courage to hold the line on pricing.
Paul Reilly is president of Reilly Sales Training, a St. Louis-based, privately owned company that specializes in training sales professionals, sales managers, and service professionals. Reilly Sales Training offers public seminars, in-house sales training programs, and hiring and training assessments. For additional information on training programs, call or email Paul at 636.778.0175 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit reillysalestraining.com and sign up for his free newsletter.