Nikolaus Kimla, CEO, Pipeliner Sales Inc.
The inner-workings of business can be a tricky game. Prospects looking to invest to any degree in your company must be skillfully shown their need for your product or service in such a way that they become convinced of it. It then turns into the ultimate chase of gently but firmly closing the deal.
The factor of competition adds a whole other layer to a business strategy. Some businesses chose to virtually ignore competition; others simply do their best to knock it if it comes up during the sales cycle; still others will go as far as to lie about it to prospects in an effort to kick it out of their minds.
But ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu famously said:
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
If this maxim is applied to the competitive scene that comes naturally to the business arena, you’ll see that you need to know everything possible about your competition if you’re going to consistently win deals. Armed with this information, you can then formulate sales tactics that will counter any measures that your competition may present.
Your Unique Value Proposition
It is obvious to most that the first battle to be won is establishing your unique value proposition in the mind of your prospect. What do you bring to the table that your competitors don’t? If this is strong enough, it alone will fend off competition. It becomes more problematic when you’re in an arena with several competitors all of more or less equal strengths. Any company should strive to establish themselves uniquely. A unique value proposition can of course include benefits other than the product, such as your company’s service levels or other value-added features.
It will do no good for you to have a unique value proposition, though, if your prospect isn’t convinced of it. It’s not enough for you to simply state it; if you’re going to really win over your prospects you’d better consult them and get their honest opinions. In their minds, how does your company/product/service rate? You can then work to improve their views in a methodical and effective way.
In so engaging them, you should find out how they consider your competition, too. That is the only way you’ll find out how your product or service really stacks up in the competitive landscape, for any particular opportunity. Discover as well, any deals the competition has presented to the company and why the company is considering it or why they’re not.
In holding your own against competition, relationships mean everything. You could view sales relationships as a sort of ladder, with “salesperson” at the bottom and “friend and partner” at the top. When you’re closer to the top, you’ll find out right away when the competition has tried to sneak into your prospect company, for example, and undermine your deal. With strong relationships, prospects or clients want to deal with you, and will often go out of their way to avoid your competitors.
As you are solidifying your relationships, do everything you can to find out what kinds of relationships have been built at your prospect’s company by your competition. If your competition has been dealing with your prospect for years, you may have to gear yourself for an uphill climb. But at least you’ll know.
As your sales cycle moves along, you should consistently be finding out how strong your position is with your prospect, versus that of your competition. You should know this for every decision maker at your target company, and for anyone else that could influence the buying decision.
If you have studied your competition well, you’ll know what types of tactics they’re likely to engage in. For example underbidding might be a common tactic. If you’ve got your relationships well-established with your prospect, you’ll find out about a competitive bid from them directly before it goes very far and be able to sound your prospect out: is your prospect company likely to take advantage of a competitor’s deal? You can then react accordingly. If you know your competition always utilizes such tactics you can even anticipate their strategy and head them off before they even have the chance to strike.
Taking this all into account, it is a good idea to have countermeasures already established for any moves your competition might make. Preparedness for any business that is looking to not just survive, but thrive in the business landscape should be a necessary part of the overall strategy.