Competing Against Fairy Tales

There are some salespeople—and some sales organizations—that are willing to tell their prospective clients whatever they want to hear in order to win the deal. They do so knowing that they cannot achieve the outcome that they promise, but also knowing that agreeing to unachievable outcomes will win them the opportunity.

So they tell fairy tales.

Why Your Dream Client Believes the Fairy Tale

There are two possible reasons why your dream client believes your competitor’s fairy tales.

The first is that your dream client really isn’t a dream client at all. We return to the business relationships maturity continuum and note that immature clients believe that you alone are responsible for achieving the outcome that they need, and that they don’t believe they should have to change or participate at any great level. They need to believe the fairy tale that they don’t have to change to get what they want in order to continue to behave badly, avoiding any responsibility for their outcomes and treating their vendors as adversaries.

Clients that are more mature in their business relationships know better. They know that change is difficult, and they know just how difficult it is to affect change even within their own organization where they have relationships and some authority. Mature clients know that it will take a real partner and great effort to get the results they need.

By telling the truth about what it will take, you will likely lose these immature prospects. You will then watch them roll through your competitors until they find one who is willing to be abused and to discount their prices to fall in line with their inability to produce what they promised.

The Second Reason

The second reason your dream client might believe the fairy tale is that they don’t yet have enough experience to know that what they want isn’t achievable. This is possible even when they are mature in their business relationships.

Sometimes you lose these dream clients on the first go around. But if they are mature in their business relationships, they learn fast and make adjustments—including quickly choosing a partner that is going to be honest about just what is required of them to succeed.

Sometimes, your dream client can be disabused of the lie. Sometimes you can present them with enough evidence, and you can share enough experiences to help them see that the story your competitors have told them is a work of pure fiction.

On one occasion, a group of consultants convinced one of my clients that they could have a litany of items that they wanted if they shopped their business. My client brought half a dozen companies in my space to their boardroom to present. Without fail, every one of them agreed that they could deliver what the consultants had suggested. I was last to present, and I had been forewarned by one of my contacts in the organization that each of my competitors had agreed to what the consultants had suggested could be achieved.

It couldn’t, and I knew it couldn’t.

Faced with the choice of being dishonest and losing the business or telling the truth at any price, even the price of my opportunity, I chose to be honest. I walked into the boardroom alone, and told their executive staff and their consultants that I could not agree to give them what they asked for, and that I knew that what I told them wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

Then I explained to them the constraints in their business model that prevented them from being able to achieve those results, that there were some ways to mitigate some of the constraints, but it wouldn’t help them as much as they needed it to.

A few members of the buying committee perked up. One of them said: “You know, I didn’t know how anyone could agree to this, and now I understand why this can’t be done this way. You are the only person who has presented to us that has been completely honest, and we appreciate it.” Fortunately, a number of his peers agreed.

And as much as we all love a story with a happy ending, this one doesn’t end exactly that way.

I was awarded part of the business, and one of my competitors who knowingly agreed to do what wasn’t possible was awarded part of the business. My competitor wasn’t able to keep the commitments that they made, and they have retained their position by paying the massive, profit-crushing chargebacks that they had contractually agreed to pay for missing their metrics–metrics I never agreed to.

How to Compete

Telling the truth will cost you some business. But it will win you far more than it costs you over time. You will lose some dream clients you should have won because your competitors were untruthful with a dream client who hasn’t yet acquired the experience to know what is really required.

By telling the truth and being honest about what is possible at what cost in time and energy, you will also save yourself years of struggling with nightmare clients who believe the fairy tales because it absolves them of any responsibility and maintains the fear-based, adversarial client-vendor relationships.

Questions

Why do some of your dream clients believe that they can have what they want, ignoring the realities and the constraints that prevent it from being possible (impossible in the manner in which they want the outcome, anyway)?

What is your responsibility to your dream client when it comes working through their needed outcomes and what it will take to achieve them? What is your responsibility when the outcomes are not achievable?

What are the best ways to compete against mistruths? How does where your client sits on the business relationships maturity continuum shape how you compete?

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