How many of my readers out there have lost business on price alone? Everything you read says “Sell Value.” Unfortunately, I have to wonder if our customers are reading those very same books. It would seem to be self-evident that when the lowest quoted price is the only factor considered; frequently, that price does not equal the final total cost. Yet, over and over we see companies, large and small put their subs and suppliers through the price ringer, frequently with the knowledge that there’s not enough money in the final price to provide the product/service in a professional manner, on time and to back it up afterwards.

Whack-A-Mole was an arcade game with the single requirement of beating to death a plastic representation of a mole over the head with a mallet to get him to go back in his hole. The same game today is played by the most levels of the construction industry today in its quest to get the lowest possible initial number on the Purchase Order, or even worse, to beat another supplier or sub over the head with that last price someone leveraged out of the first poor sucker. In the context of buying and selling your products and services, Whack-A-Mole can be described as the destructive action by one company, bent on destroying another. This only works in really bad markets like the one we live and work in at present. A wonderful example of Whack-A-Mole on steroids is the way government is “driving down the cost of Medicare.” Of the several ways they could do it; raise premiums, throw more money into the pot, restrict care or pay less to providers, the government chose to play Whack-A-Mole with the providers and now pays them only 80% of what private insurers do and is on the way down to paying only 60%. The provider’s choice is simple; play and lose money or opt out of the largest pool of customers that exist. How long will that work before so many providers opting out that the system simply collapses? Now, this blog is not about whacking the government, but it goes to show that the game of Whack-A-Mole depends on at least one weaker player in the game to work, and right now providers are politically weakest with seniors and the government holding most of the cards.

Let’s now get back to the two of us. It goes without saying that none of us want to be that weak player with a mallet hanging over our heads and the expectation of being that next mole to be whacked. In many years of one-on-one and group conversations, I continue to be amazed at the sheer number of sales professionals who feel powerless when it comes to negotiation. All of us have heard that animals can smell fear; the same goes for humans as well. There are two different kinds of situations we will likely face in a typical sales presentation:

The way you approach each one is different because you need to talk to someone you can solve a problem for, not some well-intentioned but powerless serf who is just carrying out party orders and does not want to become that next mole about to be whacked. Rule number 27 applies here.

Only the brave few will go to bat for a stranger.

Most will do what is expected of them rather than to break new ground; even when they know you are correct. No matter how good you are at your job, there are limits to your power and influence. When you’ve reached that limit with someone that’s it. However, that limit is reached much earlier when the person you are talking to is either powerless themselves or is unwilling to step outside their comfort zone. Further, your ability to influence events drops precipitously, the farther away from the decision making process you are. The takeaway I want you to take to heart is that you must always endeavor to sell the actual decision maker, no matter how many toes you feel you are stepping on. If you can enlist an underling in supporting you, so much the better. But remember, it’s always easier to be pushed downward in an organization, instead of being pushed up. For both political reasons and human nature in general, underlings will tend to block your upward movement. When you receive an unfavorable result at a lower level, it is frequently difficult, if not impossible, to move up the food chain. If nothing else, you are moving up the chain in a damaged condition and behind the 8 ball situation. Bosses don’t like to overrule their reports any more than staff likes you to go over their head. Start at the top and relieve yourself of a lot of pain. The reception you receive from someone who is worried about things you can help him/her with vs. the person who is just trying to do a good job and hold onto it can be dramatically different. It is up to you to size up the situation and zero in on the individual feeling the pain. Bottom line: If you can’t solve a problem, what is it that you are offering that is going to be compelling to your prospect. Find a way to be compelling to the person who is most likely to be able to understand and accept your message. Otherwise...

Whack. Whack. Whack.

Good Selling!

Allan Feifer is the President of DEC International. Allan started DEC more than 35 years ago and has background in the process and construction industries as well as many years as a recognized authority on construction trends and analysis. Allan lives in Florida with his wife and two cats. You can reach him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .