Overcoming Sales Inertia

JoustIt isn’t uncommon to see sales people with the same names in their pipeline.   Names that never seem to progress, but sales people hang on to them.   Hopefully they know there is a business there, but often don’t know how to turn a conversation and relationship in to enough momentum to displace the client from their incumbent.

So how to sales people do this?  Well, it’s about overcoming inertia.  It’s important to define inertia for a moment as this frames nicely how we work towards displacing a client.   Inertia is defined as ‘the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion, including changes to its speed and direction. It is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant velocity’.  Therefore, as a sales person you need to create, or be, the force required to overcome the resistance and, importantly, the energy to maintain the velocity.  Our clients are naturally inert.  Unless something changes, they are unlikely to spontaneously change their suppliers/partners.  What then do we do to displace them?

Here is a model to consider.

Model of Client Displacement

There are two factors that will create an opportunity to displace your prospects from their incumbent.

  1. Service Displacement
    • This revolves around their relationship with their incumbent.  There are usually two areas where this will arise
      • Realised
        • The prospect knows they have a service issue with their supplier.  Often this will create the situation where they will approach you (or a competitor) to resolve.  It could be that there has been a change with their current supplier relationship manager (in certain industries, particularly advice based, this can be a large catalyst).  Being careful is important as sometimes this issue can be ‘client led’ rather than a genuine issue.  You can inherit a poor customer (refer That Escalated Quickly)
      • Unrealised
        • Here, you have identified an issue in their service that they aren’t yet aware of.  This could be down to your prospect believing they have a good relationship, believing their supplier has their best interests in mind – however you identify there is a service gap.  They could be getting more.  A more superior relationship proposition.   Here, you need to work to open their eyes to this fact (refer Win Win What and Cart Before Horse)
  2. Solution Displacement
    • This area revolves around an event or situation in the business which creates a displacement event.  These cover a variety of areas:
      • Business As Usual
        • Some prospects regularly tender their business, checking the market to ensure they’re getting the best deal.  Some suppliers live in this space – however it can be frought with issues.   Often, unless you have an existing relationship with the prospect, you are pitching solely on price.  Unless you can get to the key decision makers and understand what the business is truly trying to achieve, it becomes difficult to impart real value.  You are better to use your relationship to move a client to tendering their business away from an incumbent supplier, than simply responding to those in the market.
      • Gap
        • Sometimes you have a unique advantage – a product or service your competitors don’t.  A prospect trying to do something that their incumbent supplier can’t help may create the displacement event you’re looking for.  Sometimes your competitor will ‘shoehorn’ a solution for the client (ie not tell them it isn’t an optimal solution) – you need to show them the efficiency and simplicity of your solution
      • Event
        • Some events occur in a prospect which naturally lead to a displacement event.  These could be lifecycle changes (growth, decline etc), structural changes (change in key influencers, MBO’s, change in shareholders, location changes (eg property purchase or moving from leasing to owning).
      • Referral/Introduction
        • Knowing someone who knows them and can endorse you can open an otherwise closed door, especially if it is someone who is highly respected and trusted by the prospect.

What does all this mean?  Well, if one or some of the above don’t exist or can’t be created, the prospect will often be left to languish in your pipeline until something changes.  This doesn’t mean ignore them, it just means change your sales strategy to ‘relationship nurturing’ until one/some of the events does present itself.  These events aren’t exclusive – a life cycle change in the business could also indentify to your prospect the lack of knowledge their supplier has of their business to which you are referred in by a trusted person to help (okay, this is possibly a nirvana situation, but it illustrates the point).

If one/some of these conditions do exist, then this becomes the focal point of your sales strategy.   Just because they exist – it doesn’t mean the prospect will move to you – it just means you have an opportunity to displace them.  You still need to show value as to how you can provide a superior solution to the incumbent.  To overcome that inertia.  To do so, you need to maintain that velocity.

Your CRM notes should clearly identify where the opportunity for displacement exists and your strategies for working with the client to satisfy this issue.   This should be at the forefront of discussions with your client.  This is what you should be discussing internally, what your sales leader should be focused on.

To define displacement – it is the action of moving something from it’s place or position.   The act of overcoming inertia.


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