When I was in sales, I discovered there are — for the most part — only two basic ways that people sell something.
- Either they sell their product,
- Or they sell against the other guy’s product.
In theory, it’s simple to sell your product. You find out what your client wants so much that he’s actually willing to do something in order to get it, then you explain to him that your product will give him what he wants so much to have, and you ask for the order.
In practice, it often takes a few skills to sell your product. For one thing, you’ve got to be at least half of a detective to figure out what some people want. You must know how to actively listen. You’ve got to know how to communicate clearly and persuasively. You need to be familiar enough with your product that you can be justifiably confident it will do what you say it will do. It helps mightily if you really do give a genuine damn that your client gets what he wants — or at least you do on Tuesdays. And so on.
Fortunately for brand new sales people, as well as other such perverts, there’s a much easier way to sell something. Just sell against the other guy’s product. For one thing, it requires fewer skills to sell against the other guy’s product. For another thing, you need not be tops in the few skills it does require.
Instead of finding out what your customer wants and then giving it to him, you simply persuade him he’s somehow getting screwed by his current vendor. Persuading him he’s getting screwed is the easiest way of doing it, but you can also finesse it by playing to other negative emotions as well. Yet, no matter whether or not you finesse it, the common theme is that you are not really selling your product — instead, you are persuading your client to reject the other guy’s product.
Realistically speaking, there are enough fear based people out there — people who are habitually more scared of doing something wrong than they are desirous of getting what they want in life — to keep you in business forever. So, it’s by no means an impractical way of selling something.
So far as I recall, selling against the other guy’s product only has one drawback from a purely bottom line perspective: It’s very difficult to do it and charge a premium price. You almost always need to position your product as lower priced than your competitor’s product. That can cut into profits. Or worse, commissions.
I used to know some very competent sales people who simply would not touch selling against the other guy’s product. For the most part, they had well established relationships with their clients, and most of their sales came from repeat business. Also, for the most part, they believed in themselves as able to make a difference. As Chuck, one of the best sales people I ever knew, told me, “I honestly don’t know if our service is that much better than everyone else’s. But I do know that if you buy from me, you get me as part of the deal, and I work very hard to make that count for something. When someone has a problem, I get it fixed. No excuses.”
And then, too, I’ve long suspected some of the sales people I once knew were all but criminally guilty of setting ridiculously high personal expectations for themselves. Patently absurd stuff like: They will not run over old folks in crosswalks even when it’s necessary to make an appointment on time, they will not set fire to a school even when their client has expressed a craving for roasted marshmallows, they will not bad mouth the competition even on Sundays when they have their client over to watch the big game and she’s a captive audience.
It’s been ages since I was in sales and I no longer know many salespeople. Nowadays the people that put me most in mind of selling against the other guy’s product are pundits, politicians, and (fundamentalist) preachers. From what relatively little I’ve listened to Rush Limbaugh, for instance, it seems he devotes most of his energy to tearing down his political competitors. But then, I think that’s true of many pundits, politicians, and (fundamentalist) preachers these days: They seem to lack any vision, any “product” of their own that is genuinely something more than a thinly disguised excuse to attack their competitors.
Thank goodness we’re above all that at Café Philos! Other blogs may be out to get you, but you can rest assured we’re not. And a new scientific study just out shows that we actually cost you less in time per sentence read than our nearest competitors. Only here at Café Philos are you and your loved ones guaranteed the safety and peace of mind you deserve — now at a reduced price!