“We simply don’t have budget for that.”
“We can’t afford it.”
“That’s just not in the budget at the moment.”
“Vendor X is cheaper, and that’s all we can do.”
Even more than the unanswered voicemails or unopened emails, hearing “No” in sales can be crushing, especially in public safety, where potential customers may genuinely want to purchase your products but can’t seem to find a way due to limited budgets.
The above statements are often taken to be tantamount to a finalized no. But good marketers and sales staff understand such statements are both common and by no means final. In fact, they are often an excellent opportunity to present the value of your product or service.
I have a friend who works for a company that does medical screenings for first responders. The tests run into the many hundreds of dollars per person. When he first began approaching agencies, he was consistently rebuffed. They would say, “We can’t afford that!”
As a first responder himself he knew better. He was able to draw on facts and statistics and case studies to make a very compelling case that health screenings were in fact a huge value. “A single heart attack,” he tells them, “costs an agency about $600,000, and a lot of the standard tests won’t tell a first responder what they need to know to get ahead of that.”
Through his service he was able to identify those at risk and recommend specific remediations to reduce emergencies. Suddenly the folks who thought his service was too expensive began to see it in a whole new light. He was saving them money—big money!
That’s a serious value proposition. But the principle stands regardless of whether you’re selling ballistic armor or cloud-based technology solutions or tourniquets. If your pricing is fair and your prospective customers still think the cost is too high, they don’t understand the true value you bring. That’s an opportunity.
A question to ponder is how the purchase will be allocated. Is it a line item for the agency? Or is it possible to spread the cost across affected departments? Police and fire eat up the lion’s share of most municipal budgets. So while selling directly to the police department or the fire department makes sense from an end-user’s perspective, the overall budgetary outlook might be different.
In the case I cited above, the cost for sick first responders goes well beyond the agency they work for. Therefore the appeal of a preventive solutions does, too. If, for example, I’m selling apparatus that will increase firefighting capability for a city, it would be essential to know if this might affect the ISO Fire Suppression Rating Schedule, which could mean lower insurance premiums across the board. That’s something a city manager or Chamber of Commerce board might want to know.
Suddenly the folks who thought his service was too expensive began to see it in a whole new light. He was saving them money—big money!
Another avenue to explore is grant funding.
“Grants can be a wonderful funding alternative to the operating budget,” says Sarah Wilson, vice president of Grant Services at Lexipol, which offers a host of public safety-specific grant services to companies and agencies. “Billions in grants funds are available and these funds can be very meaningful to the vendors who provide goods and services to the public sector. With planning, preparation and the right grant, agencies can fund equipment, software, training and personnel.”
As I’ve written before, trust is everything to first responders. It takes time to accrue but it lasts in this world. Even if you don’t make the initial sale, you should endeavor in all that you do to build positive relationships. It’s the right thing to do. But here’s why it’s also smart business.
Unlike the private sector, titles in public safety might not necessarily correspond with those whose opinions hold weight in the purchasing decision. I know a patrol sergeant, for example, who is all things license plate recognition (LPR) for his agency (and neighboring agencies too). He is truly expert on this topic. So if you were to target his city’s chief technology officer or police chief or fleet manager in hopes of selling an LPR solution, you’d likely be wasting your time. If you come to the patrol sergeant with surface-level appeals, you’d be wasting not just your time, but his as well.
Being respectful of people’s time and willing to learn about the challenges they face are basic politeness. Unfortunately, they fly in the face of many conventional sales and marketing efforts (think: bulk emails and pop-up ads). Smart marketers understand communication goes both ways.
The simplest definition of marketing is identifying needs in the marketplace and then creating wants and demands in addressing those needs.
So the next time you or your sales team hears “No,” take a step back and consider: What are they really saying? Is this an opportunity to deepen a relationship? Or are you talking to the wrong person? What can you do to educate about your product’s true cost? Or the true costs of sticking to the status quo? Perhaps you’ll learn something about your product or service that will take you to the next level. Maybe that firefighter you’re talking to will one day be deputy chief.
At the end of the day, what matters is that you be helpful. Smart companies have long known that sales, and the sales experience, is a function of marketing. Good work succeeds with a little patience.