Competitors are in My Account! HELP!

A reader writes:

I’m trying my best to close deals but I keep running into the same competitors in most of my accoutns.  THey’re talking to people and saying bad things about ourproduct, which is lots better than what they’re trying to sell.  What should I do?  If I tell them how lousy those other firms are, I’ll look like somebody who can’t sell without being negative.

A common problem.  You need to learn how to sell competitively.  Here’s a simple plan , inspired by an audio book by the amazing Linda Richardson, which can get you started…

  • STEP #1: Do your competitive research. This should go without saying.  You need to know what your primary competition is offering… before you go on a sales call.   Get on their website.  Look at their messages.  Read their case studies.  Examine their online sales materials.  You should be at least as familiar with your competition as your customer is familiar with them.
  • STEP #2: Ask the customer about the competition. The time to do this is in the middle of the sales cycle, when you’re scoping out the customer problem and working on the crafting of the solution.  Ask which competitors have been calling, what they’ve been saying, and to whom they’ve been talking.   If the customer won’t tell you anything, you can assume that the competition probably has the inside track.
  • STEP #3: Get an assessment of your position. Ask the customer for a realistic appraisal of where you and your firm stand, vis-a-vis the competition.  The answer will help you determine how much effort will be required to displace the competitor.  It will also provide you with valuable perspective about how effective your sales effort has been so far.
  • STEP #4: Differentiate your offering. Based on the above, map the competitor’s offering, sales campaign, and overall position in the account against your own.  List areas where your competitor’s offering is weaker than yours when it comes to solving the customer’s problem.  List actions that you can take (like meeting with key people) that the competitor has missed.
  • STEP #5: Make a strategic decision. If the competition is so entrenched that you’ll probably not displace them, you have two choices: 1) decide to withdraw, or 2) decide to reposition your offering as compatible with competition’s offering. (Move on to FINAL STEP #6.)  If, however, your offering and the customers perception of your position are strong, you’ll want to sell toe-to-toe. (Jump to FINAL STEP #7.)
  • FINAL STEP #6: Partner with the competitor. If your offering and campaign is not strong enough to displace the competition, and you still want to be in the account, you need to find some area of the customer problem that the competitor’s offering doesn’t solve, and sell that portion of your solution to the customer.  This may entail meeting with your erstwhile competitor to craft a joint proposal.
  • FINAL STEP #7: De-rail the competitor. You know that your offering is superior in terms of being able to uniquely address the customer’s needs.  You also know who you need to convince in order to make sure that your offering is selected.  You job now is to execute that plan, and make sure that everyone on that list knows why your offering is the better choice.  Go for it!