Business Advice for Team Dealers

Make a Choice — Cheap, Fast or Good; Call Me! — How To Make A Better Business Call; Say Goodbye — Maybe You Have To Cut The Chord; Stay Healthy — Become A Better Health Care Buyer

Make a Choice

Would you expect someone to give you all the time in the world to deliver an average product, while letting you charge as much as you want for it? Sounds absurd, right? This scenario is just as pie in the sky as getting something cheap, fast and good. Rarely, if ever, do you get all three.

The Trilemma

Known by many names, such as “the triple constraint” or “the business triangle,” the general rule is that you can have it cheap, fast or good, but you can’t have all three. Yet picking only two is a choice most don’t want to make.

Here’s a simple example: Adam wanted to buy an ultra-HD TV in time for the Super Bowl. He didn’t need top-of-the-line, but was determined to go big and wanted the best bang for his buck. Unfortunately, he waited until two weeks before the big game and found that the great deal he’d been eyeing was on back order. He couldn’t get it in time and was left with three choices:

1. Order an in-stock, lower quality TV (fast and cheap)

2. Order a comparable in-stock TV that wasn’t on sale (fast and good)

3. Wait for his dream TV to be available (good and cheap)

Although purchasing a TV is worlds apart from selling team sports, running a marketing campaign, designing a website or buying a service, the trilemma is still the same. And whether you’re a Fortune 500 company, a tech-savvy startup, or an independent team dealer, the cheap, fast or good rule holds true for everyone.

So how do you pick the right two? Adam had to choose what was most important to him — what he valued most: price, quality or speed. Here are some things to consider to help you make the right choices.

Do Your Homework

If price is a priority, then preparation is key. By planning as far ahead as possible and building in a lot of lead time, you’ll be in a better position to bargain with vendors. Early preparation also allows you to develop a clear picture of your goals and communicate them. The better they understand what you want, the better they’ll be able to deliver.

Say, for example, you’re building a new website to coincide with a product launch. You want to go live simultaneously in English and Spanish, but you spent all your energy on the English site and didn’t leave sufficient time for the translation. This often leads to one of two outcomes: high cost or low quality.

Doing your homework also means understanding each step in the process. Make sure you’re working with professionals who are experts in their field. The last thing you want is to find out that the vendor tasked with translating your website is outsourcing to an inexperienced translator.

Don’t DIY

The Internet is full of people proclaiming that you can have your cake and eat it, too, that you can get it cheap, fast and good — if you just do it yourself. In the end, you’ll often find that the time you spent trying to be something you are not could have been devoted to developing your core business.

Others offer tempting yet misleading ways to get services for free. Sticking with the website scenario, automated translation apps and plug-ins are a perfect example. You might think you can simply plug in your copy and translate your website in minutes. And you can. But will it be good? Machine translation is far from cracking the code of human language and all of its nuances. The Spanish speakers who land on your website won’t be impressed, let alone stick around very long.

Bend the Triangle

The trilemma isn’t always a zero-sum game. You can bend the business triangle, but only within reason. Being smart in one area can often pay dividends in others. If you’ve planned very carefully in advance, you can save your vendor time and get what you need while keeping costs down. Also, less expensive doesn’t automatically equal cheap. Perhaps you can find a quality product with fewer bells and whistles — less good, so to speak, than more expensive counterparts.

The caveat here is “within reason.” To get it reasonably cheap, fast and good, you’ll need to decide how much of each you’re willing to give up.

It’s About Value

You’ve likely heard the old saying: “You get what you pay for.” But that only tells half the story. The trick is not to think in terms of price but instead in terms of value. Ask yourself: Is it mission critical or simply nice to have? Will fast and cheap end up doing more damage than good? Most of the time, you are going to sacrifice quality unless you come to the table with a lot of time or a lot of money. But maybe that’s okay — maybe you’ll still end up with the added value you need.

You really can’t have it all. But if you treat the trilemma as question of value, you’ll be able to focus on the two aspects of it that are right for you.

Call Me!

Hi, this is Joe calling from Acme Sporting Goods. How are you today?”

“Well, Ahmad, I was a lot happier before you called and interrupted me. I’m behind with my project and I’m too busy to leave my desk. Don’t call me again.”

The truth hurts, but it’s honest. Joe blew it. He had an opportunity to win the ear of the athletic director or coach on the other end of the line, but he squandered it by asking a silly question.  

Clueless Joe probably won’t get another chance to engage that target. Anyone in the business-to-business sales industry will tell you, stepping off on the right foot can mean the difference between clicking and a terminal “click.”

Is there hope for Joe and the legions of desperate dialing dealers just like him? Of course there is. By paying careful attention to three basic things – preparation, practice, and patience  – almost anyone can improve their business-to-business calls.  

1. Preparation

Are you cold-calling people and hoping for the best, or do you invest an adequate amount of time and effort in homework?  

First, do you know what you offer and can you use under 20 words of conversational English to explain that product or service? If not, don’t make the call.

Second, have you researched the people you plan to call? This doesn’t mean full-throttle cyber stalking, but at a minimum you need to look for them in the usual places: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google. Search for people by name and company, by name only and by email address. Together, those three inquiries will yield more complete results than any single query.

For example, maybe the email address search leads to a PDF of a youth baseball team roster. Now you know something about your prospect you might be able to weave into a conversation. A quick word of caution:  If you discover information beyond what you see on LinkedIn, whatever you do, don’t admit to the depth of your research unless you want to sound creepy. “I saw on Facebook you and your family had a great time at the Outer Banks last summer.” This comes off as extremely invasive.

If you fail to tend to those basics, don’t be surprised if you get caught and have your lack of knowledge held against you. Given the ubiquity of information in the age of the Internet, there is no excuse for not knowing the fundamentals about the organizations you call and the people who work there. Period.

The third step in the preparation process is choosing a reason to call. The more specific it is, the more likely you are to get a thoughtful response.

Just make sure you don’t say, “Good morning. This is Joe with Acme Sporting Goods. How are you today?”  

2. Practice

Just as a skilled skater makes jumping and twirling look as effortless as breathing, smooth phone selling requires athlete-level discipline. What you say should roll off your tongue and sound natural. A perfect conversation starter will often sound stilted if it’s not practiced. Be prepared to work hard to sound unrehearsed.

Where do you find the time? How about the shower, during your commute (assuming you don’t take public transportation) or as part of scheduled role play? Role playing can be painful and unpleasant, but as the saying goes, no pain, no gain. As uncomfortable as they may be, these exercises are one of the fastest ways to learn.

3. Patience

You follow the preparation and practice instructions to the letter and your first two calls are a bust. What happened? Maybe you’ve just been unlucky. Not everyone is going to want to talk to you, and that’s their loss. If you have a good reason to call and you offer a product or service that might solve a prospect’s business problem, hold your head up and press on.

Keep dialing, improving and learning from what works and what doesn’t — and do it with a smile and a good attitude.  

Lack of patience will get you no place you want to be. Regularly practice and critique your performance and you will get better. If improvement is not happening fast enough for you, enlist someone you trust to listen in on your calls. His or her comments may sting. Too bad. In the long run, you’ll be glad you got the help.

There’s no secret sauce in the recipe for better business-to-business calls, just elbow grease. With better preparation, practice, and patience everyone can improve their results one call at a time.

About the author: Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. For more:

View the other two columns in the July / August 2019 print issue here.