By Bridget McCrea
Getting customers to change course and start buying more products and services from your distributorship is no easy task thanks to a phenomenon known as “buyer inertia.” It takes hold when human nature kicks into gear and begins vehemently resisting change – particularly when no one has given the customer a “compelling reason to change,” writes sales guru Tom Reilly in Distributor Salespeople Reveal Their Greatest Challenges.
According to Reilly, 62 percent of salespeople say that buyers who don’t want to change remains a major sales roadblock that’s driven by several factors. First, the buyer may be legitimately thrilled with what he or she is doing and feels no compunction in denying the salesperson the business. Second, the salesperson may have not have offered a good enough reason to change. “Buyers change for pain or gain,” Reilly states. “If there is no pain and no perceived gain, things will remain status quo.”
If you and/or your sales team have hit “the wall” and are having a difficult time overcoming buyer inertia, try using one or more of these strategies to break through the barrier:
- Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Reilly’s research has found that salespeople can trace two-thirds of buyer’s objections to insufficient fact-finding. Put simply, salespeople are not asking enough “quality” questions. “Managers can help by building in practice probing sessions to their weekly sales meetings,” Reilly advises. “This hands-on training helps salespeople become better interviewers and diagnosticians.”
- Steer buyers away from conversations about price. Salespeople tend to shape their pitches around price – a strategy that can quickly lead to even more impenetrable cases of buyer inertia. “When you focus too much on price the conversation will never move past the ‘surface’ level,” says Barrett Riddleberger, CEO at xPotential Selling in Greensboro, N.C. He advises salespeople to steer clear of price conversations whenever possible and to instead focus on the customer’s pain points, wants, and needs. “Have conversations that deepen the relationship and demonstrate your distributorship’s value,” says Riddleberger.
- Establish a baseline of trust. Electrical contractors are being hit with so many sales and marketing messages right now that they are becoming immune to those advances. To help your company stand out from the clutter, focus on establishing a trust-based relationship with your customer. To build trust, Riddleberger says reps must show that they can go beyond selling and deliver superior follow-up and attention to the account even after the sale. “Think beyond the superficial relationship,” he advises, “and look at the different ways that you can built depth within each account. This will go a long way in helping to establish a trusting, win-win relationship for both entities.”
- Act like a team player. A sales rep’s underlying goal is to meet targets and quotas. Achieving that goal in today’s selling environment requires a broader vision that goes beyond just making the sale and moving along to the next account. By helping customers either save money or make more money, for example, distributors can carve out permanent places for themselves while also effectively overcoming buyer inertia. Two questions that Riddleberger tells sales reps to ask are: How do we help you make more money and how do we support you in getting and retaining your own customers? “When you ask these questions, you’re showing that your company is doing more than just pumping out products for the lowest price,” says Riddleberger. “Prove your worth as a valued team member and customers will respond by breaking out of the inertia zone.”
- Upend your customers’ “inertia loyalty” habits. In her book Customer Loyalty: How to Earn It, How to Keep It, sales expert Jill Griffin defines inertia loyalty as a “low level of attachment coupled with high repeat purchases.” Put simply, the customer buys out of habit even if he or she feels some degree of satisfaction with the supplier. “This loyalty is most typical for frequently bought products and is exemplified by the customer who buys gas at the station down the street, dry cleaning from the store down the block, and shoe repair from the nearby cobbler,” Griffin writes, adding that it is possible to turn inertia loyalty into a higher form of loyalty by actively courting the customer and increasing the positive differentiation he or she perceives about your product or service compared to others available. “For example, a dry cleaner that offers home delivery or extended hours could make its customers aware of this fact as a way to differentiate its service quality from that of competitors.”
- Know your company’s key differentiation points. Equipped with a wide array of buying options – some of which are right at their fingertips – customers are in charge when it comes to selecting the right supplier for a specific product. To make sure your distributorship resides at the top of that supplier list, Jeff Goldberg, a Long Beach, N.Y.-based sales consultant and speaker, says you have to give them a good reason to buy from your company. Are you offering 24/7 service? Technical support? Job site delivery? Vendor-managed inventory? All of the above? “Know your company’s differentiation points and use them to give customers a reason to buy from you,” Goldberg says, “even when buyer inertia is in full force.”
- Make the transition as easy as possible. The key to unseating an entrenched competitor is to make the switch as painless as possible, according to Rapid Learning Institute’s Michael Boyette, author of The number one enemy in sales prospecting: Buyer Inertia. “When you’re selling to these buyers, you don’t want to differentiate your product,” he advises. “You want to emphasize similarities. And then you want to demonstrate one compelling reason to make the switch.” Ultimately, he says active buyers are driven by dissatisfaction; they’re looking for a change. “But prospects that say they’re satisfied are different, and they have to be sold differently,” Boyette writes. “Help them see how they can switch to your product or service without pain and aggravation.”