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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  March 07, 2013

How Buyers Choose When Faced With Many Options

Originally published for RainToday.com

Three venues.  Four nights.  Twenty-seven bands.  There was no way I could see all the performances during this recent cruise of 70s rock legends.  How did I decide who to see and when?  By using the same three standards many of our buyers use when faced with too many choices.  Let’s drill down on what we all do to navigate our options and how to take advantage of the process.

Standard 1:  The Front-Runners

We got the newest schedule upon registration and found out that many performances overlapped.  It was impossible to see all of my favorites.  Our first task:  block out the front-runners.  We looked at the most recognizable names first, then whittled that list down to our must-see bands.  This ensured that no matter what, my personal play list–such as “Takin’ Care of Business” by Bachman Turner and “It’s Allright Now” by Free/Bad Company front-man Paul Rodgers–was heard.  My thinking:  if I got to see my rock idols, everything else was a bonus.

Our buyers do the same thing at the beginning of the buying process.  They not only weed out the unqualified, but they put the more prominent players on the short list.  The purpose is the same:  to make sure only the contenders are considered.  It’s also a hedge-your-bets issue.  The more prominent you are, the safer you are to hire.

How to take advantage:  It’s tempting to focus on the tangibles, such as lead generation, at the expense of intangibles, such as brand awareness.  Ask yourself if you would rather have more leads so that you have to fight for the buyer’s attention or if you would rather have fewer opportunities where you are on the short list?  This is why branding is so important; it advances the sales cycle.  Don’t underestimate the power of being the front-runner.

Standard 2:  The Inside Scoope

Our group had the lucky addition of a resident expert.  Fellow consultant Andy Birol has an encyclopedia-like knowledge of all things rock and roll.  When I told him the bands I was going to blow off because I didn’t recognize the names, the poor man’s head almost exploded.  He set me straight quickly with not only his opinion, but also with plenty of facts.  The results paid off big, as I rocked out to my teenage anthem “Free Bird” by the surviving Lynyrd Skynrd band members.  Thanks to Andy, I also saw Bobby Keys, the sax player for the Rolling Stones, brave strong winds to belt out “Brown Sugar”.

What I learned:  The program didn’t provide all the information needed to make the best decisions.  Because some bands with unrecognizable names had highly recognizable players, it was easy to miss the best shows.  In the midst of not knowing the players, this insider information mattered a lot.  Without Andy, I would have missed major opportunities.

Many buyers take advantage of experts they trust to make the best decisions.  When these experts recommend you, buyers immediately put your firm on the short list.  We get the benefit of the doubt because decision makers don’t want to miss out on their best option.

How to take advantage:  Sure, everyone knows to get referrals from their clients.  And it’s tempting to focus all our efforts on the “real” decision makers.  But don’t forget to nurture the advisors.  Open the door with content marketing, and keep in touch regularly.  Their influence is worth more than we sometimes give credit for.

Standard 3:  The Buzz-Makers

About half way through the trip, amazingly we had seen all of our top picks and actually had several gaps in the schedule.  So, we chose to see the bands that have the biggest buzz.  We asked people by the pool bar, at the buffet, and in the elevators, “Who have you heard?”  The recommendations were enlightening.  Bands I wanted to see got cut due to lackluster reviews.  Shows I didn’t consider got a second look.  As a result, I heard great music that I almost missed.

In small communities, word travels fast.  Even when bands improved their performance for the next show, it was too late.  We were already somwhere else.  I wasn’t willing to take the chance on seeing a bad show when there were too many better options.

Many buyers are risk-adverse.  The cost of implementation is too high to risk getting bad advice.  In the sea of rave reviews, even a lukewarm recommendation can put a big project on hold.  Think about it:  why deal with mixed reviews when so many firms appear to have nothing but positive marks?

How to apply:  In competitive environments, your “A” game is standard.  Use your unique strength to go above and beyond.  It’s the extra touches and a “wow” experience that makes the difference between a good and great review.  Gather enough great reviews, and you’ll have word of mouth working in your favor.

The Inside Edge

When faced with too many choices, buyers are just like us:  they use subjective standards to make decisions.  They lead with emotion with their natural preferences.  They can be swayed by trusted advisors and personal experiences.  When we remember what it is like to be faced with too many options and too little time, we can tap into a more natural way of making decisions.  And that mindset can be our inside edge.  Rock on!


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.