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“If shoes grew on trees…”

Speaking at a meeting of the Isolo chapter of the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International in 2006, Mr C.S.U. Anyanwu, a stock broker, literally brought down the roof with a story about his nephew whose exam result showed an improvement in his position from 6th to 5th. As the boy’s father encouraged him to gun for the 1st position in the class, the lad innocently responded in igbo, “anyi nwere onye n’agbara anyi first” (we have someone who takes first for us)”. As far as the boy could fathom in his young mind, the first position had been reserved for his classmate. The only way he could attain to that position was if his classmate who had colonized it left the school or the class.

Simplistic as this boy’s response may sound, it is the equivalent of what sales managers and directors hear everyday from their field sales staff who campaign that their management should lower the price bar to enable them make sales. In their reckoning, certain accounts are reserved for their competitors unless and until their competitor dies or their own management competes on price.

Salespersons need to be taught that competing on price is one of the most wasteful things that a firm can do. Lest you accuse me of being too forward, I will quote two recent authorities to strengthen this argument: The first is Don Moyer who published a pictorial titled Death by a Thousand Cuts in a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review. He declared price-cutting an impossible strategy to sustain against competitors that are more efficient. My second authority is R. Preston McAfee, author of Competitive Solutions: The Strategist's Toolkit in which he argues that price wars between equals produce injuries on both sides and victory on neither.

Interestingly, it is not only field salespersons that are befuddled by the insistence of management not to lower prices. Even sales managers have joined the fray on a good many occasions, accusing their top management and finance departments of market insensitivity. This goes to highlight the seriousness of the issue.

To escape the price driven sale, each professional salesperson must learn to define and redefine value from the perspective of the buyer the same way we learnt to do mental arithmetic in primary school. As Eric Slife would say, “the same product, from the same company, in the hands of two different salespeople is two different solutions altogether”. A salesperson with opportunities to interact with potential buyers can create, recreate and communicate values that are separate from the products he sells – especially, if he chooses to sell solutions rather than just products.

Make no mistake about it: Price is not everything; value is. Even in Oturkpo, the unofficial yam capital of Nigeria, a salesperson whose yam looks exactly like his neighbors’ can use value-creation and communication to enable him stay a naira or two per tuber higher than the least-priced seller.

Whether you sell yams, PR services, financial derivatives, promotional materials or petroleum products, the secret is the same. Where your company or products are not sufficiently differentiated, the only thing left to differentiate is the salesperson himself. Simply become a human differential and increase your worth to the customer! Stop approaching the selling function in the traditional way of target, present, handle objections and close. You cannot secure a unique result by doing what you’ve always done or what everyone else has been doing. Go for value.

This statement is so important that it bears repeating: Where your company or products are not sufficiently differentiated, the only thing left to differentiate is the salesperson himself. Learn to differentiate yourself. How do you achieve that? For starters, be a carrier of solutions. Then, be good company. Be a well of relevant knowledge which the buyer would want to drink from. Be a truthful person; at some point, manifest honesty becomes an advantage, you know? Be someone who can be relied upon to do what he said he would do. Be readily available and easily reachable. And never forget to deploy the concept of seeding which we so liberally discussed in this column last year. It’s the ultimate tie-breaker. These are skill and attitudinal sets you can develop through worthwhile training programs.

Even if shoes grew on trees with no visible differences in sizes, basic designs, color and supplier services, a salesperson that projects these features cannot help but sell more shoes at higher prices than his contemporaries.

If you have a stuck deal or sales questions that are crying for answers, do send us a mail or tell me about it through +2348038127484.


Chris Uwadoka brings 30 years of private and public sector hands-on experience in sales, sales management, public expenditure management, brand-sensitivity advisory and performance improvement consulting. Currently the Vice President of Answerbank Consulting, he works with senior management teams to identify salesforce effectiveness strategies and deploy same to good effect. He is also the author of MANAGING YOUR POLITICAL GODFATHER, an insightful book on political entrepreneurship in Nigeria.

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