Whether you work for the market leader, or a start-up, as a sales person, you’re going to have to learn how to deal effectively with your competitors. How you handle your competition directly influences your ability to build trust, demonstrate knowledge and credibility and, ultimately, whether or not you win the deal. Here are my top 5 tips on how best to handle the competition:
- Don’t Ignore the Competition. You might think this obvious, but it’s a tactic adopted by many sales people, particularly those especially confident in their own solution. This approach relies on the premise that the solution being offered by the sales person is so brilliant, that the customer won’t even bother to consider alternatives. For sales people who really believe in their solution and the value it brings, this is an easy trap to fall into. The harsh reality is that today’s buyers conduct, on average, 68% of the buying process online. This means that your buyer has probably already spent a significant amount of time considering your competitors before you even get to speak to them about their specific need. When talking to your customer and building your proposition, you’re going to have to take the blinkers off and address the competition.
- Know your Enemy. OK, firstly, I don’t actually believe that competitors are the enemy. On the contrary, competitors not only ensure we remain innovative and keep developing new products/services/ways of working but, just sometimes, our competitors are able to offer our customers a better solution than the one we can offer them and that’s when we step away, demonstrating integrity and building trust in the process (positioning us favourably for future opportunities).
The term ‘enemy’ here does, however, provide us with a useful analogy. Just as an army would not go into battle without first researching their opponents’ battle techniques, weaponry, strengths and weaknesses, the landscape in which the battle will take place and even the forecasted weather conditions, neither should a sales person enter into a proposition without a detailed understanding of what their competitors can offer.
Some of this information will come from building and maintaining a good knowledge of your competitors products/services and, specifically where their strengths and weaknesses lie in relation to yours, but some will also be uncovered in the conversations you have with your customer, very often in the form of objections to your own solution. Forewarned is forearmed and knowing where the weaknesses of your own proposition lie, compared to those of your competitors, will enable you to deal promptly with those objections before they have chance to raise their head at the negotiation stage.
One final note here, if by ‘competitor’ we mean an alternative to our own solution, we must also include the customer’s option of doing nothing at all – choosing to remain with the status quo, rather than opting for one of the proposed solutions. When comparing the strengths and weaknesses of their own solution with that of their competitors, sales people must therefore also see how their solution measures up against this ‘do nothing’ option.
- Don’t Badmouth your Competitors. Of course you want to highlight to your customer the additional value your solution brings over and above that of your competitors, but choose language that does not in any way, insult or disrespect your competitors. This will only serve to cast you in a bad light with your customer. Additionally, consideration must be given to the opinions of the wider DMU; even if your customer favours your solution, often, at least one member of the DMU will favour a competitor’s solution and you’re never going to bring them around with mud slinging! Address your competitor’s weaknesses instead by highlighting where your solution brings additional value.
- Be the Best Sales Person that you Can Be. Remember that, when it comes to making a buying decision, it’s not about the proposition alone. The buyer will want to choose a supplier that they trust to deliver the solution, who they feel has the expertise and credibility to see the project through to completion. These things (trust, expertise, credibility) are built, strengthened and demonstrated in every interaction you have with your customer. Even if you have the best solution for the customer, if you, for example; fail to follow up on commitments within agreed timeframes; turn up late; fail to listen and fully address your customer’s concerns, you may find you lose the deal to a competitor’s lesser solution, simply because they have more effectively demonstrated integrity, reliability and trustworthiness. Always keep your competitors in mind and notice that I stated ‘Be the Best Sales Person you Can Be‘, as opposed to being the ‘better‘ sales person. You cannot control your competitor’s behaviours, but you can be the best sales person that you can be.
- Don’t Enter into a Price War. I’ve touched on this final point already; when it comes to negotiation, buyers will inevitably draw on the comparative weaknesses of a solution (one of which may be the cost itself), to try and drive down the price. If you have failed, earlier in the process, to identify and clearly communicate additional value that counteracts any weaknesses in your own solution and justifies the cost you have put forward, you’re probably going to find yourself either discounting, or losing the deal altogether. If your solution brings genuine added value to your customer and the cost you’ve offered reflects that added value, stick to your guns or, at least, ask for something in return. Whatever you do, don’t just drop the price to try and undercut a competitor. If the competitor comes back with a lower price again, you’ll quickly find yourself in a price war. In such instances, only the customer wins and, if there’s one thing that has remained consistent in sales over the years, across all methodologies, it’s that the primary objective is always win-win.
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