Christine placed her notes on the podium and looked out past the stage lights at the sea of faces in the hotel ballroom. Partner Dental sales reps from all over North America gazed back at her expectantly. She adjusted the microphone and took a breath. Here goes, she thought.

“Good morning. I’m Christine Cooper, branch manager in Los Angeles. Matt Simon, our CEO, will address you in a moment. But he asked me to kick things off because I’m the one who lobbied him to schedule this training event. If you’re looking for the guilty party, I guess I’m it.”

The line drew the polite chuckles she expected.

“Last year, in this same venue, we introduced a new sales system called Action Selling. The feedback we’ve received from all of you says that you have found it enormously valuable. Our North American sales figures say the same thing.”

“As you know, Action Selling is a systematic approach to managing and conducting the entire sales process, from initial contact with a prospect to following up after the sale. But Action Selling offers another opportunity that isn’t necessarily obvious. Some of you recognized it the first time around. For you, this two-day training event will be a chance to hone and refine skills you’re already using.”

“Others, however, are in for a major revelation. You’re going to be especially happy that you came here today.”

“What is the hidden opportunity I’m talking about? It’s that Action Selling doesn’t just give you a dependable way to close more sales, gain new business, and wind up with more satisfied customers. That you already know. What some of you don’t quite get yet is that Action Selling also gives you a way to protect your margins in the face of brutal price competition.”

“Action Selling isn’t just a better way to sell your products. It’s a way to sell your price – both to new customers and to established ones.”

“Like a lot of industries, ours is engaged in what I think of as a race to the bargain basement. Alot of factors play into it. There’s the increasing commodification of products and services — including ‘value-add’ strategies such as our Partner Plus program, which looks a lot like other frequent-buyer programs. There’s the consolidation of suppliers into fewer, larger competitors. And let’s not forget the Internet, which makes price shopping much easier. The upshot is that every day we are under intense pressure to match or beat our competitors’ lowest prices.”

“Tell me if this sounds familiar: You make a call on a regular route customer. The office manager shows you a brochure or a catalog from one of our competitors. They’re running a special on some of the items we sell — cotton rolls, surface disinfectant, or whatever. There they are, in black and white: the very same products, a few bucks cheaper.”

“Well, what can you do? If you want to keep the business, you figure, you’ll have to discount. So you match the competitor’s price.”

Some uncomfortable shuffling in the audience told Christine that, yes, that sounded familiar to a number of the reps.

“I know a Partner salesperson who gave away $50,000 in profits last year, a buck at a time, by doing exactly that. He thought the solution would be to improve his negotiating skills somehow.”

“He doesn’t think so anymore. And he isn’t discounting to keep his business anymore. Because he figured out that the answer isn’t to get better at haggling over price. The answer is to get out of the price-negotiation game altogether. The solution is not to run faster or run smarter in the race to the bargain basement. It’s to withdraw from that race altogether and start running a different one.”

“The answer, he realized, is…”

Duane Sparks

About Duane Sparks

Duane Sparks is founder and chairman of The Sales Board, the authoritative source of practical and leading-edge information about the art and science of selling.  He has created Action Selling sales training products and learning systems that transform sales organizations.  Duane is author of these best-selling books: Action Selling, Selling Your Price, Questions (the Answer to Sales), Masters of Loyalty (How to turn your sales force into a loyalty force), and Sales Strategy from the Inside Out (How complex selling really works).

Discover how the best sales training process can make spectacular improvements in sales skills. Action Selling: How to Sell Like a Professional (Even If You Think You are One).