Winning the Shopping War

September 10, 2010

Bringing Cross-Shoppers Back to Buy from You


Dave Chace (dave@trainingallies.com) is president of Training Allies, a CE-focused training firm in Philadelphia.

It happens. You’ve spent quality time with prospective clients discussing ideas about a system for their home, and despite your impressive expertise, experience, and winning personality, they tell you that they still want to shop around before making their decision. While this may be deflating to hear, be aware that this is a pivotal point in the sales process, and your course of action at this moment can be every bit as important as all the time spent leading up to it.

Volumes have been written on “overcoming objections,” and I’m not suggesting that you simply throw up your hands and give up. But there are cases where the customer sincerely wants to explore other options before making their decision. For these scenarios, here are some proven strategies to help ensure that they come back to you when it’s time to buy.


Let your potential customers find out for themselves that your competitors don’t stack up to you.

1 Don’t Say It, Prove It. Naturally, you will be eager to convey that you are the right choice for potential client. You should, however, avoid hollow proclamations like “We’re the best!” Really? Who says so? You? Here’s a bulletin: every business on the planet makes the same claim, so these types of statements don’t carry much weight. Instead, references and written testimonials from satisfied customers offer much more credibility, because now it is other people praising you, not you praising yourself.

2 Take the High Road. When customers tell you they want to shop around, they know it’s probably not what you want to hear, and might expect this situation to reveal your true colors. They may be waiting for “Mr. Nice Guy” to disappear and for you to become defensive, resentful, or even confrontational. After all, lots of salespeople fulfill this expectation admirably.

The winning move is to do something many customers might not expect: accept their decision and commend them for being wise consumers. Keep in mind that they simply want to review different options and make an educated decision before spending a lot of money. So rather than begrudging them for “wasting your time,” earn their gratitude by becoming their advocate and arming them with key information to help them make an informed decision.

Remaining friendly and helpful during this potentially awkward situation speaks volumes about you, and leaves a powerful final impression with the customer. Essentially, you are setting the bar that others will have to clear before winning their business.

3 No Bashing. While you probably feel that your products and services are superior to those of your competition, avoid the temptation to disparage the other guys to make yourself look better. Also, forget “scare tactics”–ominously implying that choosing someone else could lead to disaster. This type of approach looks petty and only reflects poorly on you. Research has proven that customers react negatively to these tactics, and while they probably won’t tell you so, it’s a turn-off to them and could cost you the sale. This does not mean that you can’t alert the customer to potential pitfalls that could result from buying elsewhere; the key is to do so in a way that customers will see as being helpful, not resentful.

4 Ask, Don’t Tell. How you articulate your point can make a big difference in how you are perceived, and a smart move is to use gentle questions instead of bold statements to shed light on important considerations. Making proclamations about a competitor—even if true—may appear adversarial and could provoke a defensive reaction from the customer. Furthermore, you might be wrong, which makes you look even worse. Approaching the issue using questions can appear less forceful and more helpful.

For instance, suppose a customer tells you they’re researching equipment prices on certain websites. Your instinct may be to respond with comments like, “They don’t have an exchange policy. You could get stuck with a bad product.” Understand that statements like this can create an awkward dynamic because the customer may feel like you’re challenging him instead of being supportive. Alternatively, addressing the issue by using questions strikes the right chord. For instance, asking, “Have you inquired about their exchange policies in case the unit is defective? You’d hate to be stuck with a product that doesn’t operate properly.” This gets your point across while still remaining their advocate, not their adversary.

5 Planting Seeds of Doubt. Another effective strategy lies in knowing what products, services, or policies really distinguish you from your competition, and then giving the customer a “homework assignment” centered on these unique benefits. This is called “planting seeds of doubt,” and the process entails three important steps:
■ Explain a unique, distinct benefit that you offer and others don’t
■ Explain why this is important to the customer, and how it provides value
■ Have the customer ask the competition if they offer the same benefit.

For instance, perhaps a competitor uses subcontractors for their installation work, which can create unpredictable results. Tell your customer how all of your installation work is done by your own employees and not third-party contractors. Be sure to explain why this is beneficial and how the customer can derive peace of mind knowing that all the work is being done by highly qualified members of your own staff. Lastly, suggest that they ask the competition whether they offer this benefit. When competitors can’t make the same claim, it reflects positively on you.

Don’t shortcut the process by simply telling the customer what the other guys do wrong. That’s bashing, and it’s a bad idea. Instead, this strategy focuses on what you do right, and lets the customers find out for themselves that others don’t stack up to you.

Cross-shoppers are a fact of life in our industry, but employing the right attitude and strategies will certainly give you the upper hand.

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