You’re Fired!

By Heather Baldwin

Your presentation went great. The audience agreed you had exactly what they needed, that you solved their most pressing concerns and that you could deliver your solution at a lower price than their current supplier. So why did the prospect later decide to stick with the current supplier? Because the prospect’s heart and mind were in the wrong place during your presentation, says Randy Schwantz, CEO of Argyle, Texas-based The Wedge Group ( and author of The Wedge: How to Stop Selling and Start Winning (The National Underwriter Company, 1998). To move prospects to the right place, you must conclude your winning presentation by asking them to rehearse the difficult task of firing their current vendor.

Prospects are only human. More than likely they have emotionalized their relationship with the incumbent and don’t want that rep to feel bad. The guilt at bringing on disappointment to a sales rep with whom prospects have a relationship makes them vulnerable to counteroffers and new promises the rep may make to keep the account. By rehearsing the break-up, you walk prospects through the emotional experience of firing their vendor so they can deal with it on a purely intellectual level when the time comes.

Therapists use this technique all the time, says Schwantz. By telling someone how other people will react or what they’re going to say, the subject can feel the emotions and deal with them in a rehearsal setting. Once those emotions have been experienced, the person is free to deal with the real situation in a more intellectual, controlled manner.

So how do you do it? When you and your prospects are in agreement that you meet all their needs and they ask for a proposal that puts your presentation’s promises on paper, Schwantz suggests you reply by saying: Well, I’d be happy to. But it’s going to create a real problem for you. The prospects then will ask: What problem? That’s when you explain: The problem is when you decide you want to make this change, how are you going to tell your current rep that it’s over?

Prospects will think about it and suggest ways they’ll deal with it. While they are doing so, you need to ask questions such as: Can you do it? How are you going to handle that? You also need to explain how the incumbent is likely to react to the prospects’ moves. These questions keep prospects focused on the difficult task they face, so continue this dialogue “until you are satisfied that prospects are prepared to fire the incumbent,” says Schwantz. “You will have to rely on your intuition to some degree, but at some point you will become confident that they are ready to act. When they are ready, so are you.”