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Sales Quiz: Competition in a Brand New Account

SCENARIO: You're at your the face-to-face meeting with a hot prospect. You want to make certain that your offering has an edge over any competition that might already be calling on this prospect.

Here are your choices. Vote in the poll, then click on the link for the best answer:

  • TACTIC #1: Be Prepared. If the prospect brings up a competitor, be sure you know the competitive landscape, so that you can explain why your offering is superior.
  • TACTIC #2: Strategic Silence. You already know that your offering is superior, so talking about the competition would make you seem crass, negative and defensive.
  • TACTIC #3: Preemptive Asking. To position your offering to advantage you need to know who to position against. So you ask the prospect who's calling on them.

CLICK for the best answer »


The best answer is: Tactic #3: Preemptive Asking. Here's why.

Tactic #1: Be Prepared is necessary but not sufficient. Until you know who else is calling on the customer you don't really know how what aspects of your offering are most likely to win in a competitive situation. While having competitive research at your fingertips is useful, you could easily end up having to backtrack on prior statements and emphasize different product features, while you're already well into the sales cycle.

For example, suppose you've been pitching "state of the art innovation" but then find out your major competitor is emphasizing "24/7/365 up-time." All of a sudden, you're in reactive mode, trying to explain why you innovative solution is as stable as one that's had a decade to mature. Ouch!

TACTIC #2: Strategic Silence is essentially ceding the field to the competitor. It assumes that there's some objective standard for product superiority. But that's not true. The "superiority" of an offering lies entirely in how the prospect perceives it. If the competitor knows you're in the account and has been actively positioning against you, you're likely to find yourself in a position where your much-vaunted "superiority" is actually a liability... in the prospect's (influenced) opinion.

For example, suppose you're touting value based upon your superior speed of delivery but the competition has been touting value based upon overall customer satisfaction. Your competitor's message is likely to trump your message, so your strategic silence is just plain dumb.

By contrast, #3: Preemptive Asking allows you to know, as early in the sales cycle as possible, which competitors are already in the account and how they're pursuing the opportunity. The only way to obtain this information is to ask your customer contact in order to better calibrate your competitive stance.

Doing this effectively requires some finesse, though. You must always preface calibration questions with a prefatory remark explain why you'd like to know this information.

For example, rather than blurting out "Who else are you talking to?" your approach should sound something like "Bill, so I can understand the kinds of things you are considering, can you tell me if you are talking with other providers?" If the customer says "yes," you acknowledge this and probe to learn who he's been talking to. If the customer says "no," put the question aside until you can ask a different customer contact.

Prefacing is especially helpful for question that are tough to ask like: "How much are they charging?" To ease into that one, you say something like "So that we can compare value, can you tell me what price they're quoting?" Then follow up with: "I want to make sure that we're comparing not comparing apples and oranges; can you tell me what's included in that fee?"

Most prospects are willing to answer such questions because they're eminently reasonable. Then, once you've discovered what vendors, and what individuals from those vendors, are involved in the account, you can dig deeper to find information that will allow you to better position yourself, your firm, and your offerings.

BTW, the above comes from Linda Richardson, founder of the huge sales training firm Richardson, and author of the best selling books Sales Coaching and Perfect Selling.