The vast majority of sales and negotiation training materials encourage us to use proven, predicable client acquisition patterns. Needs testing, the language of benefits, attractive promotions, plans for dealing with objections, and proper product presentations are undisputed elements of every salesperson’s toolkit. When analysing research into client behavior, we encounter situations in which their behavior seems completely unreasonable. Sometimes lack of promotions, no language of benefits, or the risk of price hikes prove much more effective than the most sublime and persuasive sales techniques.

Such situations may be considered sales paradoxes. This article will be devoted to situations in which the client’s decision to purchase appears to be inconsistent with any trade logic. Here are the 5 most common paradoxes we encounter.

PARADOX 1: The best-selling product is the one we don’t sell right away

In my professional experience, many times I’ve seen how a product presented to a client too early wound up competing against itself, somehow diverting attention from what the salesperson had to say about it. As a result, the so-called ‘flow’ of the presentation was often disturbed by questions or objections that were unrelated to the subject, throwing off the salesperson’s balance and causing the meeting to end like this: “I’ll have to think about it. I’ll get back to you.”

Why does this happen? Of course, there’s nothing wrong in our product presentation - after all, we’re just doing what we’re supposed to. However, sometimes it ‘competes’ for the client’s attention, making it much harder for us to maintain control over the presentation and to guide the client with our reasoning. It’s worth keeping in mind that demonstrating a product too quickly is just as distracting for the client as a lengthy introduction.

We recall the famous presentation of the iPod in 2001. For several minutes, Steve Jobs spoke about the portable music players available on the market, and then talked about the main features of the new Apple product, building tension and impatience among the audience, who wanted him to present the physical product. This situation was neither the first nor the last in which, instead of showing off the new device, Jobs elaborately built up the tension and brought the audience into a common vision of the problems and the possibilities offered by a new Apple device. As we know, most of the products Jobs presented went on to be spectacularly successful, gaining cult-like status.

I’ve used this unusual way of discussing a product, without actually showing it, many times. In general, it passed the test, with the product demonstration and discussion of the details becoming mere formalities. In contrast, when salespeople I worked with presented, for example, a partnership program, starting with the basics of the program, and then discussing the list of included products, it often ended with a digression (e.g. why a certain product isn’t on the list), which led to a break in the conversation, or which led conversations to be postponed for a later date.

How can I take advantage of it?

The phenomenon described above is ideally suited for selling complex products - products whose very complexity may bring up many questions and digressions. If you want to sell such a product, it’s better to start with the context. It’s worth referring to the market situation and the possibilities your solution can offer the client. Only when you’re sure that the customer sees the value in the solution (and is very interested in it), you begin the real demonstration. This makes it easier to maintain control over the conversation, and thus positively influence the result.

PARADOX 2: Discounts sell worse than threatening price hikes

Most salespeople don’t like it when their companies put up prices. There is nothing strange about that. Such changes generally make their job difficult. In addition, they often mean decreased competitiveness, decreased client interest in the product, and thus decreased turnover. There’s nothing worse than a large, sudden, unannounced price rise, particularly for products which are price-sensitive for our clients. However, price rises can also have a positive impact on sales.

Imagine you know about a price rise a few days in advance. In such circumstances, most salespeople try to hide the rise from clients, diverting their attention away from the change. However, that strategy often ends badly. When the client becomes aware of the situation, they generally not only decide not to purchase your products, but also to limit collaboration in general, as they may feel used or cheated.

What if you warn clients about coming price rises? Research on consumer behaviour (in both B2B and B2C relationships) shows us another paradox. Most customers, after learning that their preferred product will soon become more expensive, decide to buy more than usual. What’s more, many analyses show that in some cases, warning customers of a coming price rise is more effective than offering a discount of comparable value. An additional effect observed in the research is that customers receive such information as a manifestation of the salesperson’s care and professionalism, and are more likely to trust that salesperson in future purchasing decisions.

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