Early in his career, sales guru Harry Beckwith once made a presentation to a customer. His company was clearly the superior choice. No one within two time zones knew as much as Harry about the industry. As far as he was concerned, the sale was a slam dunk.
He lost that sale, of course.
Today, Beckwith cites that experience to illustrate a dirty little secret about human decision making: For most people, the number-one goal isn’t to make the best choice.
They won’t say so, of course. They’ll tell you and anyone who will listen that quality is their top concern. They may even believe it themselves. But there’s another priority that’s far more powerful:
They want to avoid making a bad choice.
If another choice looks acceptable but seems less risky, it will usually win. Experts on decision making call this “Looking for Good Enough.” It happens every day, in decisions large and small.
The fewest problems
For example, federal appointees such as judges and cabinet secretaries are often chosen that way: The “safe” choice gets the nod instead of the “best” choice, because the administration doesn’t want to risk a nasty confirmation fight.
Another example: Instead of bringing in a brilliant and iconoclastic outsider to replace the CEO, the board will give the job to the less talented but familiar No. 2 who’s been with the company for years.
On a more personal note, perhaps you’ve noticed that when you go out to a restaurant, you’re more likely to order the dish you’ve already tried and liked, rather than take a chance on a new entree.
Are you a safe choice?
Looking for Good Enough happens in business all the time. Instead of choosing the product or service with the most pluses, buyers choose the one with the fewest minuses.
And yet most sales presentations focus on benefits – that is, the pluses. Whenever you’re selling, ask yourself, “What risks might this prospect see in buying from us?” Without reminding prospects of those risks – which will only remind them of their fears – eliminate those fears one by one.
Strength can be scary
In some cases, what you perceive as a strength is a big red flag for sales prospects.
Suppose a company is selecting a photographer for a new marketing campaign. Will it choose the high-fashion photographer with a string of awards? Or the reliable industrial photographer whose pictures aren’t ground-breaking, but who can be counted on to show up on time, get the shots and deliver the images when promised?
The high-fashion photographer may actually be just as reliable, but looks like a riskier choice.
That’s why Beckwith lost his slam-dunk sale, he says. He needed to eliminate two fears. Unintentionally, he reinforced them instead. Because he sold himself as a top expert, the prospect feared he’d be expensive and uncompromising. And because he’d worked for large clients on large projects, they feared he wouldn’t consider their business important.
Beckwith got so carried away with telling the prospect why he was the best choice that he neglected to assure them that he’d also be the safest choice.
His advice: Don’t get hung up on proving why you’re the best. Instead, focus on making yourself an excellent choice. Then eliminate anything that might make you a bad choice.
Harry Beckwith’s best-selling book, “Selling the Invisible,” is published by Warner Books.
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