In previous chapters, we described the phenomenon of mainstream-market buyers. Sales cycles with these buyers most often move at a slower pace than those involving early-market buyers. These mainstream-market decisions are almost invariably made by committees consisting of several people, with the majority of them having the ability to scuttle the project by saying no, but lacking the authority to say yes. Mainstream-market buyers are often governed by one or both of the following principles:
They are looking, but they lack a strong commitment to buy. Salespeople in these situations may begin throwing resources at the opportunity, hoping that the right thing will happen. In these cases, they run the risk of providing free education. These can be relatively easy situations for mainstream-market buyers to be involved in because the vendors do virtually all of the work as the buyer is getting exposure to new approaches. Unless compelling reasons to act can be uncovered by the salesperson, the result may well be no decision. The most common reasons for this result are
The salesperson never negotiated a Sequence of Events with all Key Players.
Business goals or problems were never identified.
The buyer did not fully understand what he or she was buying or how it would be used.
There was no compelling benefit versus cost.
The buying committee was concerned about the staff's ability to implement the recommendation.
If, for some reason, a mainstream-market buyer gets serious about making a decision, it is a virtual guarantee that the buyer will shop the transaction around by talking with other companies offering similar products. In some cases, if there are no comparable offerings in the market, the buying decision will come to a screeching halt. Mainstream-market buyers want to compare offerings from at least two or three different companies. Doing so may verify in their minds that it is too early to risk going ahead with the project. They are likely to postpone a decision unless or until the offering gets to a point where multiple companies are in that space and the offering shows the potential to become the de facto standard.
Assuming that there are alternatives, mainstream-market buyers will feel compelled to invite at least three companies to assess their needs and make a recommendation. We refer to this process as "running a beauty contest." While it is an advantage to have been the vendor that caused the sales cycle to begin (Column A), many unfavorable things can begin to take place. Despite the fact that a start-up company has a superior offering, mainstream-market buyers are apt to evaluate more established companies. Even if the seller has inferior offerings, doing business with a known corporate entity potentially lowers exposure to risk and second guessing if the project fails to meet expectations. Within the technology sector, for years IBM was seldom thought to have the latest or least expensive offerings. IBM did, however, represent the safest choice. Many transactions were won by appearing to be the safer alternative. At times, inviting two or three different companies to present their offerings will confuse mainstream-market buyers, which always have "no decision" lurking in the background if things get overwhelming.