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Research a Competitor in 10 Minutes or Less

SCENARIO: You've just learned that your prospect is seriously considering a competitor's offering -- and it's a competitor with whom you're not familiar. In an hour, you're scheduled to give a presentation to a team of decision-makers, and you know you'll need to torpedo the competitor, if you're going to win the business. You've got your laptop, and your slides, and an Internet connection, so you can access the competitor's website. What now?

Here's what:

  • Step #1: Skim the Corporate Overview. You want to make certain that you're researching the right company and, if so, you want to calibrate and position everything else that you're going to learn.
  • Step #2: Review the product/solution descriptions. Even though this will be at the brochure level, what you're looking for are features that are lacking that you know will be of use the customer. If you can't find specific features, look for mismatches like it's primarily a packaged software company but the customer needs a customized system.
  • Step #3: Skim the white paper libraries, if any. Look for papers written by industry analysts that might contain "objective" claims of superiority that the competition might make about their product. Figure out a weakness in those claims, even if it's only the fact that the white paper is paid content rather than objective.
  • Step #4: View the management biographies. What you're looking for here is previously-existing connections that might exist between the competition and the prospect decision-makers. Where connections exist, you'll need to use more effort to win those folk over.
  • Step #5: Check out the positions wanted areas. You're looking for areas where the competitor currently lacks manpower or capabilities.
  • Step #6: Take a quick look at recent press releases. Find the reference accounts at which the competitor is likely to use as proof-points. Be sure you have some counterexamples at hand.
  • Step #7: Customize your slides. Go through your presentation and mark places where you need more emphasis in order to fight off the competitive threat. Example: if the competitor is weak in service, emphasize that area in your presentation. Or add some reference accounts that will counter the accounts the competitor is probably including.
  • Step #8: Plant some time bombs. Generate some questions that will plant, in the prospects' minds, doubts about the competitor's ability to perform. Example: "What would happen if your system went down on a weekend and your vendor couldn't fix it in time for Monday morning opening? Unlike other vendors, we have a full support staff available on weekends."
The main thing here is to be quick and think fast. However, if you've got more time than an hour, the same process can be mined for further defensive activity. For example, you can call the analyst who wrote the white paper and dangle some business before his nose, so he'll say nice things about you if the prospect contacts him directly.

Another good approach is to call the competitor's reference accounts and find out whether they really are happy with the competitor's product. You'd be surprised how many reference accounts are 1) no longer customers or 2) no longer happy.

BTW, the above is based upon a conversation with Linda Richardson, founder of Richardson and author of the fabulous book Perfect Selling.
READERS: Any further suggestions?

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