I spend a lot of time on the road with a number of sales teams and I have to tell you… the swagger factor out there in the marketplace is low. That’s right: SWAGGER. That quality of confidence that provides patience in the face of stupidity, no-blink nerve when looking into the eyes of challenge and the slight strut of knowing you’re the best.

As I’m talking to sales leaders in a variety of industries who are absolute best in class and working with top-shelf branded clients, they are still committing these party fouls when approaching new prospects:

  • They run test-proof cycles for the most basic products and services.
  • They waive engineering, design, drawing, setup and installation fees for first-time buyers on small orders.
  • They fulfill tiny initial orders as a way to “prove” themselves.
  • They agree to long “try, wait and see” cycles.

Now, at some point in your company’s history of performance, serving demanding clients and developing your reputation, your company became good enough to answer this question from a prospect: Are you qualified to do business with me?

“Qualified” means competent and market competitive — in pricing, features and benefits. Which further means that you should have the right to move past the first round (walking in the door). The issue is that prospects ask for samples, references, test-runs and little orders as a credentializing step in the process of doing business with you. After you have credentialized yourself, then you get to the real issues of a potential business relationship, which means relevance and value at a scale past credentialization.

Repeat after me: Brando don’t audition

Think of it this way: When you’re dealing with someone of Marlon Brando’s talent level, it would be ridiculous to ask him to audition; insulting, redundant to the body of work he has already produced. A director might ask himself, “Is Brando a good fit for this particularcharacterDoes he provide the right chemistry for this project? Do we need to pay his salary to get this project off of the ground?” But you don’t ask whether or not Brando can act… that has already been proven.

With prospects who are asking for you to credentialize yourself, you have to get them to see you as competent and competitive so that you can get to the value and relevance of using your firm. One of the better ways to do this is to take the prospect back to your company’s body of work.

You say:

“Look, we work with X, Y and Z companies, solving problems like P, D and Q and with the scale of A, B and C. This tells you that we are capable of doing this type of work consistently and at a market competitive rate. Otherwise, these companies, with their rigorous qualification process and purchasing approach would never have hired us. If you agree that we can probably handle your work, let’s spend our time focusing on the specifics of this relationship so that I know whether or not we can be relevant and valuable on this particular program.”

People put you through the hoops of auditioning because:

1) They feel they have to. Some part of their process makes them feel like it’s required.

2) They want to put you in your place. Like keeping you in the lobby 15 minutes extra before meeting you — this is a power play.

3) They don’t know you’re Brando. This is the place you have the greatest amount of control. Through your initial conversation and presentation, the prospect needs to understand that putting you through the hoops is a waste of their time and yours. You are the Marlon Brando of your industry!

Somehow the competitive market place has caused companies to stop swaggering. You have to get that back, otherwise, walking through that audition door is going to destroy your confidence.

You should be going through the finalist door at the first knock.


Public Domain photo by Carl Van Vechten, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
This post by Tom Searcy was originally published on CBS’s BNET blog.

Date Published: January 10th, 2011
View this blog post on BNET

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