By John Tabita

“Un-Selling” Another’s Solution? Shame on You!

By John Tabita

An SEO client of yours is approached by another web company with a unique marketing solution which you cannot provide. When your client asks your opinion, you …

  1. Take an unbiased look and give the client your honest advice
  2. Tell your client this would “conflict” with the work you’re doing for fear that, if your client begins working with another web firm, you might wind up losing their business

In my last article, Transactional vs. Consultative Selling: Knowing the Difference Makes All the Difference, I compared the transactional sale with the consultative one:


Transactional Sale

A simple, short-term sale in which the customer already knows what he needs. Little or no product knowledge is required on the sales side. Buying criteria is usually based on “how much?” or “how fast can I get it?”

Consultative Sale

A complex, long-term sale involving the collaboration of both buyer and seller. The sales person must first understand the customer’s needs before offering a solution.

It becomes a problem when a prospect attempts to engage our services using the transactional approach. Yet, we can do our clients an equal dis-service when we assume the transactional approach, but disguise it as consultative.

Harvard Business School professor, Ranjay Gulati, explores the fallacy that media companies are “consultative and customer focused.” According to the article on BIA/Kelsey’s Local Media Watch blog, salespeople are saying “I’ll talk about your needs so long as it leads to you only buying my portfolio of solutions …” but that they are “communicating with customers through a product lens (with a pre-determined end in mind).” That’s a problem.

Consultative or collaborative selling is about transparency and building solutions that fit the customer’s needs and not necessarily the media company’s balance sheet. If a salesperson is aiming to sell a specific product set, and is willing to un-sell other potential solutions, then this version of consultative selling is merely disguised as the same transactional selling of old … (Italics Mine)

Are you willing to walk away rather than propose a solution that won’t truly meet the prospect’s needs? Or will you “un-sell” another potential solution by providing disinformation to convince the prospect that your offering is superior to another type of advertising or marketing medium?

Incidentally, the scenario I shared at the beginning of this article actually happened to one of our sales reps, and his client’s SEO “consultant” chose Option B. Shame on you, whoever you are.

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  • John, I’m sorry to say that this just reads like someone who’s sore at losing a sale. Your points about honest consulting are good, but maybe your team’s work *would* have conflicted with the work the other firm was doing. As your audience, with no involvement in the situation, we just don’t know how much you’re assuming. I can sympathise if the need to vent is what inspires a genuine article, but vaguely ‘shaming’ random people isn’t exactly transparent consultation.

    • Pete, I never said we lost the sale.

      We provide advertising on our Internet Yellow Pages site. Anyone with SEO basic knowledge knows that advertising doesn’t “conflict” with search engine optimization. This is a perfect example of deliberately “un-selling” another solution for self-seeking financial reasons, just like the author I quoted is talking about.

      • Thanks for clarifying, John – it was just honest feedback on how the article read. I had checked your byline, but “a mix of advertising solutions” didn’t preclude your offering something that *did* conflict with an existing strategy. Agreed, Yellow Pages ads shouldn’t conflict with SEO, I just couldn’t assume that was what the SEO “consultant” had claimed.

  • Recently I saw a client (actually a husband and wife), who between them needed three websites (one new, two upgrades). While two of the sites were well within my capabilities, the third was highly graphic-intensive, which is not my “field”. However, having cultivated the other local web designers, I was able to recommend one of them for the graphic-intensive website. While I’ve yet to hear back from the clients, I don’t feel I lost out there- it may have given me extra credibility, in particular with the other web designer!

  • Are you willing to walk away rather than propose a solution that won’t truly meet the prospect’s needs?

    I have and I’ve regretted it. Now I provide solutions for everybody and cater for the cheap and cheerful clients.

    We have to understand that clients have budgets. If we offer something which is out of their league they will say “thanks, but no thanks” and in the end we’d be left without work and without money.

    I recently quoted the going rate which I knew would work for the client, they eventually did not agree and decided to go down a cheaper path, particular this year clients can only afford what they’re willing and know what they can give. Many use the recession as an excuse not to pay the going rate, and try to haggle with us. It’s quite bad really, but in the end we cannot give them something guaranteed to work if the money is not there.

    • Angelo,

      I always have a much more grandiose vision for what can be accomplished than my clients. Meeting somewhere between my vision and their budget (while still accomplishing most of what they want) is realistic and necessary. We had a client who spent a lot of money with us in two phases. He probably would have spent less, but as a start-up, he didn’t have the capital to do it all in one phase. He still got everything, just not all at once.

      When I say “walk away rather than propose a solution that won’t truly meet the prospect’s needs,” I don’t mean that you shouldn’t propose a scaled-back solution. In our industry, we always pitch a dominant ad program to our clients, because we know it will get them the the lion’s share of eyeballs and a better ROI. Many of them can’t or won’t do that, so we’ll scale back to a less aggressive, yet still competitive program. They won’t make as much, but they’ll spend less and still see a decent ROI. If my solution doesn’t do either of those, I’ve done them a dis-service.

  • @Pete, no worries; I appreciate honest feedback. You probably did pick up on what does truly upset me, such as when media research firms like Telemetrics, Burke Inc., Statistical Research Inc., and CRM Associates conduct in-depth, year-long studies proving Yellow Page usage, but search “gurus” say things like, “I asked a roomful of 300 people and none of them use Yellow Pages. See, that proves Yellow Pages is dead.” And people believe them. That upsets me.

    Now, it’s become the social media “gurus” who (ignoring the 12 billion+ U.S. Google searches daily) are claiming, “Search is dead; don’t you know social is the new search?” (and people like Danny Sullivan get all up-in-arms). People believe them. That upsets me, too.

    It upsets me because it’s the small business owner who suffers because of the dis-information that’s being spewed by companies that “un-sell” other viable and effective advertising mediums, just to improve their bottom line. Many small businesses would be more successful if they had a mix of print, search, and social, if not for the “guru’s” convincing them otherwise. But, alas, I digress…

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