A Calculated Risk in Selling

WRITTEN December 13, 2018 Author: John Epstein

“You should buy this product from my competitor.”

These words came as a surprise to my customer, to say the least. Moreover, there is no doubt I would have been fired had my manager known that I sent a customer to the competition.

So, why did I do it?

The customer had requested a meeting to discuss purchasing another piece of office equipment. In addition to equipment, this customer had been purchasing a suite of supplies from me for several years. (My competitor also manufactured equipment and supplies.)

Over the next hour, we talked about the customer’s needs, desired outcomes, preferences, implications of the status quo, and so on. We weighed the plusses and minuses of each approach. There were several types of equipment that would be suitable. He made his decision.

Our equipment offerings were best-in-class; durable, competitively priced, state-of-the-art and user-friendly . . . with one glaring exception. Inexplicably, there was one piece of equipment that my employer had not updated in many years. It was woefully inferior to the competitor’s offering.

And that was the equipment my customer wanted.

Was he aware of the relative strengths and weaknesses of our product versus that of our competitor? At a high level, yes. I didn’t hide my misgivings.

Up to this time, none of my customers had shown more than a passing interest in this piece of equipment.

Up to this time.

The customer made his decision. Now it was my turn. Should I close the sale on a piece of equipment that will get the job done, albeit slowly and with undue waste and aggravation? Or should I point him to my competitor and risk losing allof his business?

I looked at him and said, “You should buy this product from my competitor” and tactfully explained why. (I was very careful to avoid being viewed as bashing my own company.) And I voiced my hope that, aside from this sale, we would continue to do business.

He thanked me profusely for being so honest. We shook hands, the meeting ended, and I crossed my fingers.

The customer bought the equipment from the competitor . . .  and continued to buy everything else from me. At our next meeting, one of the firm’s owners came in and expressed his appreciation for my candor and guidance.

Over the following years, the business with this customer grew nicely, far outweighing the loss of one sale. The calculated risk paid off, this time.

Act in your customers’ best interests and you will earn their business and loyalty.

This information is discussed in our Selling Skills ► Into Action curriculum. If you’re looking for ways to improve your communication skills, register for one of our public classes.

Photo by Dalton Touchberry on Unsplash
Other Resources:

The Calculated Risk Question

Helping is the New Selling

5 Steps to Happy Clients

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