Monday, July 02, 2012

Negative Selling

The pitch was passionate enough to keep the audience awake. The speaker and his assistant were animated in professing the virtues of their products. They kept on imploring the CIO to consider their wares instead of the market leader, even though they had only 10% market share in comparison to the leader’s 60%. The CIO who had listened patiently for more than 30 minutes thanked them for the presentation signalling an end to the meeting. The entire sales team was aghast ! No questions ?

It was a large deal that had every vendor wanting to show their wares with a hope of getting the business. The company had embarked on a major transformation after many years of hibernation. Thus there was a sense of expectation in the market and rightly so since whosoever bagged the order would become the standard supplier for a long time to come. The total business potential was very large commercially as well as from market visibility perspective.

For the vendor having discussed the architecture and the overall strategy with the IT team, the final stage to qualification was expected to be the meeting with the CIO. So the vendor pulled all plugs and brought together the best possible team for the presentation to the final decision maker. They knew that they had a chance of making the cut since the market leader had no presence as yet in this account. The CIO was also known to be fair in his approach and that added to the expectation.

The meeting started well with the setting of expectations and illustration of the approach, product features, open standards, and recent wins across industries. So far so good, but midway something broke and the fervent pitch turned awkward; rather than discussing merits of their product, approach and solution, the sales head started talking about the problems the CIO is likely to face if they selected the leader’s products. Now it was not about what they did but what the leader did not do.

It was not evident to them that they were no longer connected to the audience and had lost. The CIO patiently heard them out through the leader bashing; he proceeded to closed the meeting with a polite remark that once the decision was finalized, it would be communicated to everyone who participated in the evaluation. As they left there was a sigh in the room; the CIO and team sat quietly trying to shrug off the negativity. Nothing needed to be said; everyone unanimously agreed that this was curtains.

Why do some people resort to negative selling ? Why do they not sell on merit ? Don’t they realize that it puts off the environment and has an adverse impact on the outcome ? Is it the desperation of targets or month/quarter/year end, and the need to sell at any cost (ends justifying the means) that brings to fore such behaviors ? Despite losing almost every such deal (I am sure CIOs can see through this clearly), the tendency remains to put down others to show superiority.

I believe that good is not always relative to something else where the other has to be proven not good. This maxim has to be understood for the behaviour to change. A product or service can be classified superior by illustrating the benefits or features; let the recipient of the information decide in his/her frame of reference whether it is a better fit than others. Everyone does not use the same yardstick neither does everyone compare the same products/services every time. It would be great if our IT vendor community understands this and starts creating better services and products.

As a CIO I would love to do business with such a company, wouldn’t you ?


  1. Gururaj Rao, Mahindra Finance11:22 AM

    Agree with your posting wholeheartedly. Vendors need to realise that the pitch needs to stick to the fitment to requirements, add value by advising on the appropriateness of the specified requirements and then leave the judegement to the prospective customers. Even the biggest or most successful entities do not have a perfect track-record; so there is no point in throwing stones at competitors. Behemoth market leaders need to also realise that their products could be over-kills for some customers and that smaller/newer players could be found fit for purpose. Some customers could also have a deliberate strategy of encouraging smaller, newer vendors whose appetite for the relationship may be much higher.

  2. I agree with Arun. IMHO, majority of the sales professionals do not use their creativity and original thoughts. Instead, they tend to parrot the material their marketing dishes out, which in turn is based on some content created by the research agencies.
    In nutshell, those sales guys who are firmly grounded, are creative with their pitch and are able to relate to the context of the client - they tend to have better relationships with the clients.
    Negative selling shows desperation and high pressure resulting into "do or die" kind of pitch.