4 Sales Strategies That Make Price Irrelevant

Building trust, understanding customer needs, and acting as an advisor can help shift the sales conversation away from price and toward business value.

It's a question as old as commerce itself: How can salespeople lessen a customer or prospect's focus on price?

The answers may not be new, but they have newfound relevance amid ongoing economic volatility, an increasingly global business environment, and customers' ability to easily compare prices. Additionally, as the world has become hyper-connected and organizations have become more and more transparent, "competitors can quickly see, study, and reverse-engineer our best-in-class supply chain management processes, innovative product designs, and lightning-quick customer response times," says LRN CEO Dov Seidman.

Given these conditions, today, more than ever before, it's essential to get customers to focus on the value a firm delivers, the problems its products or services solve, and the benefits it can provide.

While there are numerous strategies for deemphasizing a customer or prospect's focus on price, the most effective sales tactics, experts say, have nothing to do with selling. "Trying to sell something is the wrong approach," says Paul Alves, CEO of AG Salesworks. "A salesperson should help a prospect through the buying process." This requires a salesperson to act as a trusted advisor while focusing on solving a prospect's problem or helping him accomplish specific goals, he adds.

Alves and other industry experts recommend the following four methods salespeople can use to reduce the relevancy of price when speaking with customers:

Build trust: Customer trust has always been crucial not only to gain a first sale, but also to sustain a long-term customer relationship. Yet, its importance is quickly growing as the volume and speed of information that people exchange increases at an exponential rate. "In a decade we're going to exchange a thousand times as much information with each other as we do today," notes Don Peppers, founding partner of Peppers & Rogers Group (parent company of 1to1 Media). "And what makes a human interaction useful and interesting to both parties is trust. If I trust you, and what you say, then I use the interaction and I might get benefit from it. The importance of trustability is only going to increase. We are going to become more trustable, and we are going to demand more trust."

In practice, that means acknowledging when a prospect should buy a competitor's offering that better matches his needs, Alves points out. For example, as part of agricultural firm Syngenta's solution-selling approach, which emphasizes building long-term relationships, salespeople will recommend a competitor's seed if a Syngenta product isn't a match for a customer's needs. According to product manager Linda van der Merwe, this offers customers peace of mind because it demonstrates that Syngenta is actually focused on what's best for its customers.

Listen to learn: Determine what prospects want. In other words, how can a product or service solve their problem, help them meet a specific goal, make them a hero. "Every human being has a win in life," says Aninda Bose, head of strategic sales for NIT Technologies. "If your proposition helps him or her win, you win too."

Listening means more than just asking individual customers or prospects questions, it means listening to the broader voice of the customer, as well. This includes learning about a customer's business, her and her firm's goals, challenges, and needs. It also includes understanding that customer's market and competitors. Today salespeople can gather some of that market information more easily than ever by conducting presales research in social channels.

Salespeople who go into sales calls armed with a deep understanding of their customers or prospects will be able to focus the conversation on the value their company can deliver to them. This not only deflects the conversation from a price focus, but also helps to build trust.

Tell a story: Once sales representatives are equipped with an understanding of customers' needs and goals, they can begin to teach through storytelling. This approach allows salespeople to use information like stories of other customers' successes to shape the benefits and value of their product or service in the customer or prospects' mind. PGA Tour Golf Course Properties takes this approach at its courses to emphasize its points of differentiation by "bringing to life the unique relationship we have with the best golfers in the world, who compete and live at our golf courses," says TPC's David Pillsbury.

This approach applies for both B2B and B2C selling. "When I interview people for sales positions," says Frank Guzzardo, chief revenue officer for C3 Metrics, "I look for people who can tell a good story while transferring their enthusiasm for that story, and for what they're selling, to others. A good teacher makes a good salesperson because the enthusiastic transfer of knowledge is an important facet of both roles."

Provide expertise: While relationship selling remains as important as ever, the nature of that relationship appears to be rebalancing. Alves of AG Salesworks stresses that the growing complexity of business challenges, as well as the growing complexity of products and services themselves, makes its "critical to be seen as a specialist who can help solve a problem or reach a goal." This is another reason that understanding a customer's business is vital. Guzzardo agrees, while emphasizing that salespeople, despite what many may say, are rarely, if ever "partners." "You're not their partner," he says, "but customers who look beyond price tend to rely on you as an expert resource and not simply a vendor."

That reliance can help stem the commoditization that takes place in the minds of customers and prospects when they focus solely on price. "You never want to begin a discussion with price, because that just commoditizes whatever you're selling," Guzzardo says. "If you truly show the value of what you're offering, price becomes secondary."