Divide and conquer great strategy in war and sales

by Aaron Prickel - January 3rd, 2011

When a competitor has a strong hold on a prospect, or you and your company have little or no name recognition with the client, a divide-and-conquer sales strategy often is the best approach to success.

The United States is not a “base hit” society. We want the “home run.” The termite, however, brings down the oak tree, not the lightning bolt.

The divide-and-conquer strategy is one that is built on the premise that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” It uses base hits to score runs. One of the following five approaches will get you on first base, and eventually to home.

Niche product or service
To get a foothold into a prospect account, you first must get the client to spend some dollars and time with you. The concept is to change your status from a vendor to an Advisor. To do this, you must put the client in a situation where he can make an easy decision to buy from you. Sell him a “niche” product or service. Once you are in, you then work to fortify the relationship and gain the client’s trust. This will open up other opportunities to grow the account.

Hostage speech
Another method is the “Hostage speech.” Tell the client that even though he is seeking bids for a specified product or service, there is a very low probability he will switch. The reason is that intellectually the client thinks he would move his business to another supplier, but emotionally he’s afraid because the risk is too great.

If there is just an inkling of doubt in the client’s mind, he will not take the risk and will always go back to the tried and true incumbent supplier, even if it’s not the best alternative. This is especially true with middle management. Even though a middle manager could make the decision to move to another supplier, he won’t because the risk is too great as it relates to his career.

With this in mind, you must change the middle manager’s prospective of one filled with “risk” to one filled with “confidence and trust.” You do this by gaining the support of the business owner or its highest level manager. Normally, they are the only people willing to make risky moves.

If you gain the boss’ support, share with the middle manager in a very nurturing manner that he is a hostage to his present supplier. Even though intellectually he thinks he could change suppliers, emotionally he is all too often afraid to because the risk is too great. Hence, he is a “hostage” to his present supplier.

Urge him to delay his decision to select a supplier. Ask him to test your services on a trial basis, because such a test will truly provide him with other alternatives and remove him from the hostage dilemma. Upon implementing a test program, you will have the opportunity to expand your relationship with the client and eventually sew up the entire order.

Sell a small order or test
Selling a small order or test is similar to the “hostage” concept, but it’s not as melodramatic. If the customer appears outwardly open, just offer to do a small order or a test to get started. If he has 15 locations, ask him to let you service one. Make the decision non-threatening and easy to make. Then “baby sit” that location. Make sure the client sees you more than your competitor, and then work for the rest of the business.

Be No. 2
Tell the client that you realize that he is probably happy with his present supplier, but you would like to be No. 2. In the event of an emergency, you will be called upon to fix the problem. The client will learn that when he has a pain, you will fix it. Once you are in the business’ inner sanctum, you will be able to see what No.1 is and is not doing. Remember inch by inch is a cinch; yard by yard is hard. Take it slow and eventually you will become No. 1.

Strategic partner referral
If you are having problems breaking into key accounts, consider the strategic partner referral approach. There are four levels to this concept. The first is the coach. He will give you advice on how to make the contact. The second is the bird dog. He will point you to a person you need to contact. The third is the caddy. He will introduce you to one of the players in the company. The fourth person is the closer. He will introduce you and also give a personal recommendation. You should have names of these referral partners in each prospective file. Use one or all four to make your contact.

The divide-and-conquer strategy will get you inside the business. Your goal then is to get a little piece of business at first, and then slowly but surely become a virus throughout the account, pushing out the competition.

Aaron Prickel
Lushin & Associates, Inc.

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