Product Superiority Isn’t Sales Superiority

Selling is about managing perceptions…And perception, being amorphous, changes with time.

The salesperson who has the superior product has an easier time selling. True or false? I get asked. It’s not as simplistic as that, I say. Think through this with me. News is news, yet the Daily Nation has a circulation ten times its nearest competitor. The mobile network you are on most probably drops calls and gets congested, but despite your persistent complaining you are still on it. Experts says Windows isn’t the best operating system, yet last I checked, over 80% of computers globally still use it.

Novelty brings a different approach to things. You may have been blindly loyal to your network and one day have your eyes popped open by an unbelievable offer  from the competing network that sees you switch networks or get a second SIM card. A sizzling story on a tabloid as your drive through traffic may see you rethink buying the Daily Nation even if for that day. Generally, people like new things. As to whether they’ll stay loyal to the new thing or whether that new thing is superior to the “old” one is another story.

Again, looking critically at product superiority, one wonders what exactly that means. Is it superior in price, performance, accessibility, presentation or…? Surely it cannot be all these because apart from miracles, all other products have a limitation. Also, even if the superiority is say, performance, how long will it be before another copies it? With this in mind then what is superiority? I think superiority is how the prospect or client perceives the product. The functional purpose of a cell phone is to be reached and reach others at whim. Yet your cell phone is most probably different from mine, and all other readers and people around you. Nonetheless, we have reasons why we will defend to the hilt, our individual choice of phone-based, of course, on how we perceive things. And perception, being amorphous, changes with time. I never imagined I would switch phone brands but I did.

So what does all this mean for the salesperson? It means that selling is about managing perceptions. In a class I held, one of the company’s products was three times cheaper than that of the nearest competitor. The delegates zeroed in on this as a point of superiority which, apples to apples, it was. And so we explored the feasibility of pointing out this difference as an entry point to handling an objection on price.  Then a perceptive chap in the session asked, “what if I was selling for the competition? How would I treat the objection that my price was three times higher than the nearest competition?” Almost immediately a bulb lit in his head and he pointed out that he would wisely play on the generally accepted perception that price equals value; in essence therefore casting aspersions in the prospects mind (without saying it) that the value was probably also three times lower! Same salesperson, same prospect, markedly different price, but same result-a sale.

Is this lying? Well, is the soap you use your choice or your wife’s perception of what is good soap? Why is it that most Kenyans have multiple bank accounts and many who can afford a new pair of shoe prefer buying a second hand one instead? This is life as we find it; progressive salespeople just work with what life offers them.


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