Marylin is a realtor, and a client of mine.

Marylin’s clients had looked at 18 houses over 4 months. By the time she was showing them the last few, she felt she was hitting all the items on their checklist. In fact, the last two houses had EVERY “must-have” and every “nice-to-have” on their list, and yet they were still hesitant to make a buying decision. The obvious question in her mind was “why?”.

Humans often make the strategic mistake of making decisions based on an ideal standard. In Marylin’s case, her buyers were comparing the houses she was showing them to an “ideal” or perfect choice in their mind. The challenge in selling against the ideal standard, is that it doesn’t actually exist, and hence has no compromises associated with it. 

Every choice, every decision, every buying moment is ultimately a choice of which compromises are worth it, and which ones are not. In Marylin’s case, every time she hit 100% of their list of wants, the clients added more items, based on an imaginary ideal created in their head. She was selling against a mirage, a dream, an imaginary option.

Part of selling, assuming you consider yourself a consultative sales person, is helping clients navigate the buying process and assisting them in making smart and beneficial decisions. That means guiding their buying decision against a real standard. I refer to it as the BAA standard (Best Available Alternative).

Marylin’s frustration was real, and in the best interest of her clients, but it was caused because she was not challenging the imaginary ideal standard in her client’s mind, and hence she was failing at helping her clients understand that their decision should be measured against the alternatives ACTUALLY available to them. The ideal house doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t exist. What matters is the comparison between this house, and the other choices possible based on the parameters (budget, location, features, etc).

The BAA standard is beneficial to both seller and buyer. It helps the seller because it is impossible to sell against perfect. How can you beat perfect? You will always fall short. It benefits the buyer because it creates the momentum for a decision, versus the paralysis that comes from seeking out a perfect (and imaginary) solution. Perfect is often the enemy of good when it comes to making decisions and taking action.

Was the first Ford car perfect when it was sold? Of course not, but compared to a horse and carriage, it offered some significant improvements. Comparing the Model T to today’s Ford would make it undesirable to buy a model T, and impossible to sell one.

“What’s the alternative?” is a powerful question that can help us in these scenarios. It is a question that I often use to get clients to measure their options based on real choices, and challenge the ideal standard, in favor of the BAA standard. The only way that question backfires is if the BAA is not buying anything at all. If that happens though, it is my fault, because it means I did not properly qualify the prospect before presenting a solution. Using Marylin’s case as an example. If the clients decide not to buy a house because they can’t find what they want, that would be Marylin’s fault, because she should have been able to figure out and communicate that non realistic expectation before showing them houses, had she done a proper needs assessment. Their info (budget, location, etc) makes some options realistic, and some not.

You don’t agree? You think throwing water on pipe dreams is a bad way to do business? You don’t like the BAA approach? Understood, in which case I have one question for you.

What’s the alternative?