"You don't understand; these guys don't play fair." I heard this recently while on a coaching call with a construction firm trying to negotiate a seven-figure deal. I've heard versions of it countless times as companies describe their competitive situation.
I've got news for you: There is no such thing as "fair." This is loser's language–and like most other versions of sour grapes, it is a great indicator that you got outplayed.
It's time to take complaining about "fairness" off your list of options. To be clear, I am not advocating anything that is illegal, immoral or unethical. But you either decide to be bold, creative and tenacious in getting what you need to win–or agree that you deserve to lose.
In every sales situation, there will always be someone with more access to decision-makers, more information, more insight, and more experience. But the question should not be, "Is that fair?" The question is rather, "Is it me?"
To win a sale, you need more access, more information and more insight. If someone else has it, then the likelihood is that they will win the sale. Instead of looking for even playing ground, determine through your strategy how to get what you need to win.
To win the deal, make sure you have the following items.
Access: In buying decisions, there are final decision makers, influencers and interested bystanders. Whether the deal is for a second family car or a new general contractor for a large project, the classifications hold. So what is your access? Do you have a personal relationship, a personal introduction, a process-driven connection, or no connection at all? You need to get as close as possible to the decision maker and the influencers, and do it as often as possible. Remember, the incumbent already has more time invested with the buyers than you do. Often the decision will be driven by the old adage, "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't." Make certain they know you.
Information: The coin of trade in larger sales is information. The person who knows the most is the person who usually wins. (Victory can also include choosing not to participate in a process that is predestined to favor a competitor.) Companies who lose in sales processes are often those that take just the information provided at face value. It is the company that digs, challenges, and asks questions that often prevails. An example: I was behind the scenes recently as a client of mine was deciding between two executive search firms. I happen to know both firms well; I provided no additional information myself, but both told me the questions they asked of my client–and I knew from early on that the one with the better questions would win.
Insight: During that questioning process, the company that eventually won the business kept translating the responses given by the buyer into "So that means ..." statements–to make sure they were communicating clearly. Sometimes the statements proved that the search firm was not on the mark, which led the buyer to clarify and provide more insight. Sometimes the statements were right on and demonstrated insight. Either way, the firm was getting more information.
Now you need a plan to get those items in place.
1. Know what you need in advance. For every sales opportunity, know what will give you a high potential of winning. This will keep you out of trouble.
2. Ask tough questions early. If you can't get the information you need or do not trust the answers you are receiving, then dig. If you still can't get what you need, leave.
3. Seek multiple points of access. I just listened to the story of a sales rep who lost a very big deal, even though his best friend was in charge of the project. It turns out the decision was being put to a vote–and the rep's friend, despite their closeness, had only one vote. Oops.
Bottom line: "Fairness" is a myth. If you really want to win, seek instead to be better informed, connected and valuable.