Identifying even the smallest distinctions between you and your competitors can make the difference between winning and losing.
The Patriot is an excellent movie about war strategy during the Revolutionary War. Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, gains access to Lord Cornwallis’ personal journals and reads every word. The British leader documents his strategy for winning battles and achieving victory over the Continental Army.
Once Benjamin finished reading the journals, he tells his men, “I’ve just been in the mind of a genius.”
In spite of the overwhelming odds in favor of the British military, Benjamin’s research helps him identify a weakness to exploit – Cornwallis’ ego. His insight leads to a significant advantage favoring the American war effort.
Lesson: To gain an advantage – research your competitors.
So, what should I know about my competitors? How much research is enough? Too often sales reps get derailed when a prospect or customer knows more than they do. In fact, the biggest fear of many salespeople is not rejection – it’s being embarrassed in front of a prospect or customer. That’s why competitive research is an integral part of professional selling.
The knowledge required to effectively compete is a function of the size and complexity of a sale in your role. Let me recommend sales strategies from three levels of competitor research:
1. For Small Ticket Sales – Know Your Competitor’s Promotions
This is the easiest of the three sales strategies. If you are selling small ticket items (less than $200), you can gain a significant advantage by simply staying informed on your competitor’s promotions. Your competitors will likely run time- or price-sensitive specials that they promote through email marketing, social media, and on their website. You want to know about these for two reasons.
First, promotions change often. You want to be prepared to respond appropriately to a customer who demands an answer for your higher price or wants to switch providers. With a few minutes of prep time reviewing current promotions, you can easily calm an excited buyer who is ready to become someone else’s customer.
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Second, you can reinforce your ‘trusted business advisor’ status by educating your customer on the fine print of your competitor’s promotion like: auto-renewal, temporary pricing, loopholes, long-term commitments, exceptions, and hidden costs. Put that knowledge to use for your customer’s benefit and they’ll stick with you.
2. For Mid-Tier Sales – Know Your Competitor’s Products and Post-Sale Support Services
This can be the most involved of the three sales strategies. For outside sales or account manager roles, become familiar with your competition’s products and post-sale support services. Obviously, you want to differentiate your solutions. But don’t stop there. Investigate how your competitors provide a total customer experience. Investigate things like:
- Delivery time and consistency
- Product quality
- Reliability of services
- Customer support
- Technical support
Each of these items can reveal opportunities for differentiation when you understand how well your competitor delivers on these versus what your customers value.
3. For Big Ticket Sales – Know Your Competitor’s Positioning in the Marketplace
This can be the most ambiguous of the three sales strategies. At the far end of the scale, large, complex sales need knowledge about competitor’s products and services, company reputation, and brand. You also want to know the sales reps that compete against you. For high dollar sales in a given territory, reps tend not to turn over as quickly as in other sales situations. This provides you with the opportunity to learn how they sell and their reputation in the marketplace.
Or, if they do turn over, you can use that to your advantage by highlighting your experience and stability in the industry. Either way, work to position yourself as a trusted business advisor by understanding your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses, and then present solutions tailored to meet your customers’ value expectations.
These three sales strategies are really designed to do just one thing: minimize surprises. Before and during the sales process, be sure to do your homework. Depending on the size and scope of your typical sale (Small, Mid, or Large), focus on educating yourself about your competitors. That forms the foundation for differentiation. Noting even the smallest distinctions between you and your competitors, when communicated to a qualified buyer, can make the difference between making a sale and coming in 2nd place – which is the same as coming in last.