Friday, December 10, 2010

Lose the Inferiority Complex. Build a Better Story.

Nobody wants to feel like they’re buying the 2nd best of anything. Educated buyers are well aware of the ‘best of breed’ brand for their purchase, but they likely lack the budget, fortitude and ego required to pay the top dollar required to obtain it, and so begins the process of attempting rationalize the comparative value of the viable alternative they hope will present itself.  That’s great news for those of us who don’t represent the high-end luxury route with all the bells and whistles. We’ve just got to stay the course helping them build the story of their decision making process along the way. Put more simply, your goal is to make the prospect feel like buying the top-end is for ignorant suckers who are too lazy to make intelligent purchasing decisions.  

In the IT world, the old adage of “Nobody ever got fired for choosing Cisco” is true enough at organizations with plenty of cash and limited ingenuity. But nobody got promoted for their innovation and cost-consciousness choosing Cisco either. My reply is always “Cisco never made anybody a hero either. Wanna be a hero?” Of course they do, or at least they want to try. It’s a matter of helping them see that winners don’t pay more to play it safe. Heroes do more with less.

A chip on your shoulder can be a shackle or a piece of flare. A burden, or an inspirational thumbing of the nose at the incumbent. To use cities for example, I’ve fallen in love with Chicago since moving here three months ago, but there’s an inescapable 2nd-class self-perception within the entrepreneurial tech community. The names of two best business blogs in town, both written by fantastic guys that have been very good to me, reek of inferiority complex: and Conversely, Austin TX, another city I recently fell in love with, clearly revels in their booming green technology scene staying off the radar of the general public with their “Keep Austin weird” credo. Chicago will never get over its ‘not New York’ status until it stops trying. (Full Disclosure: I’m a native NYer still trying to do the same)

Hertz car rental’s classic “We’re #2. We Try Harder” and Apple’s brilliant-till-it-wasn’t-anymore ‘Mac vs PC’ campaigns are perfect examples of reveling your role in the pecking order to the chagrin of the top dog. Instead of shying away and hoping you don’t ask the hard questions, they proactively address the needs of their core audience and glare a spotlight on their relative strengths. Ask a Hertz or Apple sales rep what makes them different and they’ll tell you everything they are that the top brand isn’t, not the other way around. People that buy their products and services feel like they’ve one-upped the chumps who blindly follow the market leader.

Another approach is to simply ignore the rest of the market in favor of an earnest emphasis on your product’s value. Take the (admittedly by them, I presume) entirely unsexy brand of Eddie Bauer. I was recently in the market for a new winter coat (Chicago will do that to you), and in the land of down jackets they repeatedly hit you with how their product provides superior warmth and functionality with classic styling that you won’t regret next season. If you want to buy a coat that you’ll never regret, but a coat from Eddie Bauer. “Ours down coats have the highest quality materials and tailoring. That’s it. The rest of the market can be trendy. We stick with what we do well.” Their retail reps don’t even think about the competition. Simple, effective and warm too.
There’s basically two strategies to succeeding by admitting you’re not the top dog. Either point out your obvious strengths, “It’ funny you mention them. We were actually created to provide a better solution by…” or stick to your guns “You can shop around all you want. You won’t find anyone better at this specific aspect of what we do.” Whichever one you choose, there’s no room for resentment.

Make people proud of their choices by never letting them feel like they settled.