What makes a prospective client choose you?

From “The Complete Works of Sales Fiction”

So, you’ve got this prospective client in your sights and you’re trying to work out why they would abandon their current suppliers and use you instead. Regrettably there are a whole load of ill-founded beliefs surrounding this very simple question such as: –

  • I’m fabulous and if only I can get to speak to them they’re sure to realise this and hire me
  • Because I’m cheaper than everybody else (I feel dirty just writing this).
  • Because I’m better than their current suppliers (and your proof would be?)
  • I’m not sure really but I’ll keep taking them out for coffee and lunch until they roll over and give in.

But when it actually comes down to it there are only three possible reasons a potential client will switch from their current supplier base to you and here they are.

They just fancy a change

Don’t get to excited about this one. Whilst we might say this when selecting a restaurant for this evenings family feast we are unlikely to  take the same approach when selecting our corporate suppliers.

In truth we do get bored with the things we buy and the places we buy them from but resistance to change is a factor here. The more effort it takes to swap from one supplier to another and the more risk involved the less likely somebody is to actually do it. Most people fall into the “high resistance to change” bracket so we should not rely on clients choosing us because they “fancy a change”. Sorry.

 Deficient Supplier Base

This could mean they don’t have any suppliers at all because they have not actually bought what you are selling before or, more likely though, their current panel of suppliers is not hitting the mark in some way. Consider these reasons: –

  • Perceived indifference: in other words their suppliers are not showing them enough TLC and as a result they are vulnerable to attack. Over time a level of complacency has crept into the relationship – it happens more than you think.
  • The client’s needs have changed but their current suppliers are not equipped to satisfy their new needs to the required standard.
  • There have been changes at the supplier (staff comings and goings; merger or acquisition; hard times etc.) which has caused the suppliers’ performance to deteriorate.
  • An event has occurred that has seriously vexed the client: the supplier has dropped a right royal clanger and for some reason the client is not inclined to work with them to overcome it.

Now the important thing to bear in mind here is that we won’t know there’s a problem unless we, or one of our trusted external stakeholders, are close enough to the prospect to glean something is amiss. It is unlikely a prospective client will call you out of the blue and say “I’ve just been let down by one of my suppliers – this is your big chance matey”. Possible but I really wouldn’t bet the farmstead on it, would you?

If you want to rely on this as a way of getting your opportunity you must stay very close to your prospect base and pounce when you sniff an opportunity.

You have something they don’t get at the moment

I’m at the seaside as I write this and was walking along the promenade yesterday when I passed Tywyn’s only seafront fast-food outlet and smelled chips – until then I had no idea I was even hungry but as soon as I was exposed to the delicious aroma of root vegetables fried in animal fat I discovered I was ravvo.

So it is with business buyers too. They are happily sailing along thinking everything is hunky-dory then they sniff the business equivalent of the onions they put on hot-dogs and bingo! they must have it. Quite often they have a need but don’t even realise it until they are exposed to a solution or multiplier (a way of capitalising on an opportunity) and then it all falls into place.

Since my entire business career has consisted of starting businesses in mature markets I have always operated in a competitive-knockout situation and as such I have to say that this is my new-client winner of choice: offer them something they don’t already have.

  • Examine the market you’re in and look for any gaps that might be appearing as a result of any external changes. Client preferences are constantly changing and each time they do the market lags behind creating a vacuum and as we all know nature hates a vacuum so maybe you could be the first to fill it.
  • Speak to your clients and prospects and get a real feel for where things aren’t working for them. This is not an exercise aimed at exposing your competitor’s weaknesses but rather to discover itches that aren’t being scratched.
  • Convert your services into products because they are much easier to differentiate and promote than a service. I know this takes time, effort and a fair amount of creativity bit it is sooooo worth it if you can.

So what is a person to do?

Well in summary if you seriously want to beat down the fortifications surrounding prospective clients here are your choices: –

  1. Keep in close contact with the prospects you have the best rapport with – some kind of contact every month and wait for your opportunity.
  2. For everybody else aim for two email/snail-mail contacts every month which add value rather than sell or promote. Let them see what you’re all about and if they need you they might just call.
  3. Develop some products that nobody else has and promote the bejeebies out of them through marketing and by picking up the phone and selling them to your clients and prospects. This is the option that puts you in control of the new-client acquisition process but is the hardest to achieve.

Whatever you do forget the idea that repeated trips out for coffee lunch, or any other kind of face-feeding event will grind them down. Maybe years ago this was a reliable method of wooing new clients but your prospect base is way more sophisticated than that these days. You really need to do more!


Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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Mike Ames

Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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