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How to Use Competitive Information

Competitive information is an important sales tool, but it needs to be used wisely in order to create the elusive "competitive advantage." I was reminded of this today when I got the following brief email:

"What is the most valuable way to use competitive information if you're an automotive sales person?"
That's a really good question, and not just for people in automotive sales. I'll continue to use automobile sales as an example, but the same rules and methods hold true in every other sales situation.

Let's start with the basics. The primary purpose of competitive information is to differentiate your own offering. By being different (and hopefully unique), you create preference for your offering thereby winning you the sale, even if your offering costs more. That's the theory, but the practice is often flawed by one of two simple and easily-avoided mistakes.

The first mistake that novice sales reps make, when presenting competitive information, is the old "spray and pray" -- spouting anything and everything in the hope that some bit of data will convince the prospect to buy. Example: "Our XJ-5 has dual cam suspension, a built-in MP3 player, and a replaceable framistat while the Acura XRL only has single cam suspension, a radio, and an embedded framistat." Such comparisons usually mean nothing to the customer and are quickly tuned out.

The second mistake that novice sales reps make, when presenting competitive information, is pitching some differentiating factor that the rep thinks is important without first confirming whether or not the prospect thinks it's important. Example: "Our XJ-5's dual cam suspension means that you'll get 5% better gas mileage than if you buy an Acura XRL, with it's crummy singe cam suspension." Unless the prospect is deeply concerned about gas mileage, the customer simply scratches his head and wonders why you brought the subject up.

To use competitive information effectively, you must find a differentiator that has a strong EMOTIONAL MEANING to the prospect, and then increase the level of emotion so that it becomes a compelling reason to buy. This is a three step process:

  • STEP #1: Discover the hot buttons. Ask questions to discover what emotion are motivating the prospect to buy. That's the one that you'll use to select your differentiator. Example: a man walks in with a wife, two toddlers and a baby and asks to see an SUV. It's probably fair to assume that safety and economy are going to be an issue, but he might also be a former sports-car owner. Or he may run a business out of his home. Or he may love your service department. Don't assume, ask.
  • STEP #2: Select the right differentiator. Once you've determined the emotions behind the sale, use your knowledge of the competition to select a differentiator that is most likely to appeal to the most dominant emotions. Example: you discover that the prospect hates service hassles, and you know that you've got the best service department in the area. That's the differentiator that you thread through your discussions with the prospect.
  • STEP #3: Amplify the emotion. Once you've determined that your differentiator is on target (check for the reaction), then take that differentiator and run with it. For example, you discover that ecological impact is REALLY important to the prospect, and have therefore have directed him to a hybrid. Your competition is an all-electric (i.e. "I was thinking of a Nissan Leaf...") Point out that drawing power from the electrical grid creates demand for electrical power and adds impetus for more nuclear power. Now your hybrid looks "greener" than the Leaf and you're on your way to closing the deal.
In short, the key to using competitive information effectively is to tie as much emotion as possible to the difference between your offering and the competitor's offering. When you do that, you create preference for your offering.