Sales guru Chuck West: Salespeople should take a cue from Harley-Davidson

If you’re a pragmatic consumer looking to purchase one of two comparable items, the first thing you’re going to do is look at their prices.

But what if one comes in at a reasonable $10,000 and the other is priced at a gaudy 15-grand?

Easy choice, don’t you think? You don’t want to spend an extra $5,000 if you can avoid it. And if you’re unlucky enough to be selling the costlier item, you’re going to have to quickly grow a silver tongue, right? Customers and salespeople have been doing this tango since time immemorial.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Then again, settling for the cheaper item might hurt you in the long run, and upselling your customer may be the biggest favor you can do him.

Chuck West

In the world of sales, price objections are inevitable, but the best, most experienced salespeople are able to overcome them — not by buffaloing their customers, but by sincerely teaching them.

“The customer is looking at initial purchase price versus initial purchase price of your competitor,” said Chuck West, program director of the sales, sales management, and advanced management programs for Wisconsin School of Business Executive Education. “And most of the companies that are in business are used to the proposition that they’re value-added companies, which means their price is never going to be lower. So you’re always going to be taking that conversation, and you have to teach the customer how to compare price.”

As part of the IB Seminar Series, West will give a presentation titled “Overcome Price Objections” from 9-11 a.m. Feb. 4 at the Alliant Energy Center. During the seminar, he’ll touch on the following related topics:

  • Understanding changes in the business environment that are leading to more price pressures
  • Preventing price objections from occurring
  • Handling price objections when they do occur
  • Finding positive ways to put through price increases

Of course, while it may be difficult for the novice salesperson to begin to think about overcoming a $5,000 price gap, for a canny sales veteran like West, it’s just another day at the office.

“Harley-Davidson is a classic example, and I’ll probably use it [during the seminar],” said West. “And here’s what they would say: You can buy a Honda for $10,000, have a great motorcycle, ride it for five years, sell it for $5,000, and it will have only cost you $1,000 a year to have that motorcycle. Or you can buy a Harley for $15,000, ride it for five years, and sell it for $15,000, and your annual cost of ownership is zero.

“So it’s taking a price from $10,000 to $15,000 and saying, ‘that’s not how you compare it. Compare it based on annual cost of ownership; then ours is zero versus a thousand for them, and we’re much more affordable at that price. So changing how you compare price is what we do as salespeople, and to do that, obviously we have to come up with a different value than initial purchase price.”

Teach your customers well

When it really comes down to it, says West, it’s all about adding value to your customer’s mission. And one of the ways to achieve that is by making sure you’re reaching the right audience. According to West, experienced salespeople have long since understood that calling on purchasing is a bad idea, because people in purchasing departments are all but genetically programmed to knock down the price.

“They’ve been out there a little longer, and they’ve gained some experience through hard knocks or training, and they will call higher in the organization,” said West. “They’re not calling on purchasing. … They’re calling higher in the hierarchy, and because they do that they connect better with the proposition that they’re helping the company achieve, and if they can get to that level, price objections become pretty small compared to helping that company achieve an objective for the coming year.

“So that’s what the more experienced reps know, and that’s why they don’t face price objections. So I’m going to talk about that in particular — calling higher and adding value to the company’s mission, as opposed to [explaining] why you have a better product, which is kind of how you start out selling.”



Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to sell Harleys, and price objections will still occur no matter what you try to do to prevent them. When that happens, says West, you better be prepared. During his seminar, West will give salespeople some pointers on handling price objections when they do come up by “taking them through a sequence, developing questions, and showing them how to do the math to prove price-effectiveness.”

Without such tools, says West, most salespeople would be dead in the water.

“When someone says ‘your price is not competitive,’ we have to be ready to respond,” said West. “A lot of people look like a deer in the headlights at that point. We’ve got to be able to say something at that moment that shows we want to have the discussion and we’re confident. … So it’s just sheer preparation for that moment.”

According to West, techniques for preventing and responding to price objections are becoming more and more vital in light of the various ways the sales environment is changing. Among these are the increasing visibility of the Internet, a higher cost of raw materials, and an increase in global supply. West says that service-related businesses probably have more latitude for value pricing than businesses that sell more tangible products, but even those who sell services can be pressured by globalization.

That makes it all the more important for salespeople to stay on top of their game and be ready to handle — and head off — price objections, says West.

“You know, it’s kind of funny. We’ve seen a lot of experiments over the Internet. For example, if you order a sandwich at McDonald’s through the drive-through, the person taking the order may be in India, then typing it and sending it to the store you’re sitting next to,” said West. “They’ve tried experiments like that — some successful, some unsuccessful, as you might guess. So there are certain services that can be outsourced very successfully. Certainly not all of them, but we’re seeing a lot of innovative ideas, because what we’re finding is the workforce around the world is smart, and they do know our language.”

If you would like to attend the Feb. 4 IB Seminar, click here for information on registration.

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