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Selling with Urgency: Creating a level playing field

Recently, one of my daughters had the need to purchase a new car. She was still driving the car we gave her in high school, and it was approaching 18 years old with A LOT of miles on it. She lives in an area with harsh winters, so she decided it was time to get something newer, more reliable and able to handle the snow and ice. She gave me the task of finding something for her, and she would trust my judgment (just as long as it was the right price and the right color).

So, eager to find my daughter the right deal on the right vehicle, daddy headed off on his mission. I found a car brand that looked like the right fit, so I went into the dealership to see what I could find and work out a good deal for her. The discussion got serious, so I asked the salesperson the million-dollar question: “Why should I buy this car from you today?” To my bewilderment, she couldn’t answer this question. She just looked at me with a panicked look on her face and called for her manager. Even more surprisingly, he couldn’t answer it either. All he could do was quote the regular talking points about safety, ground clearance, value for the dollar, etc.

Needless to say, no purchase was made, and I went on my way. I was very happy to continue my search, but the salesperson’s heart was broken that I didn’t a purchase that day. The disappointment on their faces when I left the dealership was evident. One thing was clear: the dealership needed to sell a car a lot worse than I needed to buy one.

I share that story to illustrate a very important point with selling: If the buyer doesn’t have some urgency to make the purchase, they possess all or most of the power in the relationship, and it’s a very uneven and unfair situation for the seller.

What the salesperson has to try to do in some way is level the playing field. As long as it’s an uneven playing field (the seller needs to sell, but the buyer doesn’t need to buy), it’s mostly an up-hill battle and difficult situation for the salesperson.

Even if the buyer doesn’t ask the million-dollar question, it’s still buzzing around in the back of their mind: “Why should I buy this item now from this seller? Why not keep looking?” The salesperson should be ready to provide an answer, even if the buyer doesn’t specifically ask it.

The answer starts with Need. We tackle the idea of selling to need very directly in The Buying Zone:

“Need can be looked at as a spectrum with less important things that don’t need immediate attention (but need to be addressed at some point) on the left – we’ll call that the Should range – and things that need immediate attention (need to be addressed and resolved now) on the right – we’ll call that the Must range. What places something on the Should side of the spectrum versus the Must side of the spectrum is the degree of Urgency.

There are many things that I should do, and they are very important parts of life and business, but I don’t particularly need to do them right now. They are not urgent. But, at some point, if things change or enough time passes, they must be done. They become urgent. They will be a must-do item at some point, but not right now.

What caused that issue to move from the Should side of the spectrum to the Must side is an increase (or change) in Urgency."

That was the answer to the million-dollar question I asked the car dealership. To let me walk out was very dangerous. Because what happened, is exactly what they couldn’t afford to happen: I kept looking. I kept shopping and found a car that was less expensive with less miles in the color my daughter wanted. And, in that case, there were other interested parties looking at that car, and if I didn’t decide to make the purchase right then, the car would be gone. Behold: Urgency! So, I bought that one.

The car the first dealership had would have worked (it fit the criteria), but they couldn’t provide a reason I should buy it from them right there. So, I kept looking. No Urgency, and they lost the sale.

In a situation like that, the buyer has the high ground, and it’s a very steep up-hill climb for the seller. Finding a way to provide urgency is the key to leveling the playing field.

You may be asking yourself how can we know whether a buyer is on the Should or Must side of the Need It spectrum and how do I increase urgency? The answer is: understand the urgency of the issue from the customer’s perspective. Urgency can be determined by looking at the relationship between a few key factors.

In The Buying Zone, we explore two different combinations of factors that create urgency. The first is the relationship between the likelihood of something happening and the time frame within which it might happen. If something were very likely to happen in the near future, we would consider that something to be urgent. Conversely, if something has a low likelihood of happening over a long period of time, that would be considered not urgent. They still should take action, but urgency is low, so they can delay and keep searching for the perfect solution.

In the car example, if the car I’m interested in has a high likelihood of being sold to another buyer over the weekend, it would be urgent that I make the decision to purchase, or risk losing out on this car.

The second is the relationship between the likelihood of something happening and the consequences of it happening. If something has a high likelihood of happening that has high consequences, that would be considered urgent. If something has a low likelihood and has low consequences, that would be considered not urgent.

In the car example, if the car I was interested in had a high likelihood of being sold to another buyer, and the consequences were that I would have to pay more for another vehicle that fit my criteria, then there would be some urgency to make the decision to purchase this vehicle without delay (don’t let the good deal get away).

The Buying Zone discusses this further:

“If you’re talking with a prospective client, you’re using a needs-based selling strategy, the problem you’re targeting has a low likelihood of happening and the consequences are also low, understand you’re having to deal with Should. Need can still be satisfied, but a strategy to bring them to realize they should take action now and not wait is the right strategy.”

So, back to my story at the beginning of this article. My level of urgency was low, because in my view, this was no deal that couldn’t be beat, the car wasn’t going anywhere from the lot, and my daughter was in no immediate danger by driving her current car longer until I found the perfect car. The dealer’s response was all about the merits of their car and not about my situation (or my daughter’s). The conversation should have focused on the urgency to act now (for the benefit of my daughter and because of the great deal offered to me), that they were the best one to provide the automobile (they were a top-rated dealership and only 1 mile from my house), and how they were providing a superior value (hard to beat). They weren’t equipped with anything like that to discuss…only the published features of their product, which everybody already knew.

To level the playing field between a buyer and a seller, find a way to create Urgency by moving the buyer from Should to Must.

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