“Perfection is often the enemy of good.”
I’m not sure who first said that to me, or when it was, but I remember it as a crucial distinction in business and in sales. No one usually claims to be going for a utopian solution, but in the same breath they’ll happily tell you that they are not willing to compromise on quality. Like everything else, there is a balance to be found in that line of thinking. You don’t want to accept low standards, but you do want to chase realistic and attainable solutions.
I find that many of the clients I talk to will make really bad decisions that involve breaking apart something that currently works, in order to search for a perfect solution. That urge to improve things is a positive force, but uncontrolled it becomes a really destructive element.
Nowhere do I see this more clearly than in sales conversations with clients and their customers. It is very easy when probing for pain, to create a scenario where the prospect becomes obsessed with finding a perfect solution, and as a result becomes stuck in analysis/paralysis. In comes a concept I call BAA selling, BAA standing for Best Available Alternative.
The tactical application of this involves applying our questioning strategy with prospects not only to finding pain, but also to finding out what they’ve already attempted in the past, and why it didn’t work. Without this information, it becomes very easy to try to sell a cure for the problem that can ultimately feel worse for the prospect than the original problem did. If the medicine’s side effects are more harmful than the disease, should we really be trying to sell it?
That means you need to be considering two things when you ask your prospects questions:
1 – What is the actual cost versus perceived cost of the problem you are trying to solve? There might be a difference between those two numbers and your client’s perception is ultimately what is going to matter. Ask the questions that get them to vocalize the reality until it matches the perception.
2 – What other solutions is the client considering to solve the problem? It might seem like a good thing if the answer is that you are the only one, but if you are the only one bidding on the work, your competitor is the most difficult one to beat, because that means that they are going to weigh your solutions against the IDEAL SOLUTION. It’s pretty hard to win a head to head fight with an imaginary perfect solution, especially when that solution doesn’t have an actual price attached to it. That’s called a Utopian Myth, or a unicorn. Who wants to buy a pony or a draft horse when a unicorn is one of the options. Neither you nor your client benefit from living in an alternate reality. There are no unicorns, so let’s take the unicorn option off the table as a consideration.
Ask the type of questions that lead to your prospect being able to see what is actually available, and how much it actually costs. If you don’t, they will often default to comparing you to an ideal, at an imaginary low price.
Ultimately, anyone buying anything should only have two possible alternatives:
– Not buying (and hence accepting the cost/inconvenience of the status quo
– Buying from someone else, and comparing apples to apples their offering to yours.
Chasing utopian unicorns is a good way to frustrate yourself, and likely do damage to your status quo in the process. It’s not about lowering the bar, it is about dealing with reality, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, making sure your client is dealing with reality as well. It is NOT professional to allow someone to live with their delusion. Challenge that delusion (professionally, respectfully, and if possible, even politely). In the end, the one that helps the client see the truth often wins trust and the business long term.