If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles – Sun Tzu, 512 BC
B2B sales may not be quite as lethal as warfare, but getting beaten by the competition is always frustrating and sometimes even painful.
Losing is especially difficult when you feel like you have a better offering and should have won the deal. Though you may have (and should have) convinced yourself that you’re the best option for the customer, you may not have communicated that message clearly enough to your customer in terms that differentiates you from the competition.
Follow these four steps below to beat the competition every time.
1) Identify the Competition
The first step in winning a competitive deal is to identify and understand who you’re up against.
It’s a fair question to ask the customer, “Can you tell me who else you’re considering?” and, “Do you have an existing partner that’s currently providing this service?” They may not answer, but you may still learn valuable information by how they answer (or evade) the question.
Another great question to ask is, “Can you tell me how we stack up against some of the other options you’re considering?” They may not only tell you who they’re looking at but what you need to do to close the gap.
Other useful sources for identifying the competition include RFP distribution lists, internal customer coaches, and other (non-competitive) salespeople. You can even see if your prospect is connected to your likely competition on LinkedIn.
Once you’ve identified the competitor(s), it’s important to do your homework and understand what the competition offers, how they position themselves, and where they may be stronger than you in certain areas.
2) Identify All the Decision Factors
Once you’ve identified the competitor(s), you need to inquire and create a list of all the factors the customer will likely use to select their partner. Are these listed in an RFI or RFP? If it isn’t a formal RFP process, will they send you their decision factors and priorities for making a decision?
We often assume we know most of the customer’s decision factors, but the customer may have very different priorities and weighting for these factors. So it’s best to always ask and confirm this during your discovery process.
3) Rate Yourself
Now that you know the competition and have a list of decision criteria, you need to conduct an honest assessment of how you stack up. Where are you stronger and why? Where is the competitor(s) stronger and why?
If you’re inclined to rank the competitor more favorably in most categories, you should either pass on this opportunity or work harder to develop key differentiators for this opportunity—and convince yourself why you’ll win.
It’s been said that sales is about the transfer of confidence. So if you haven’t convinced yourself that you’re the best solution for the customer, how do you expect them to come to that conclusion?
4) Develop Messaging
Finally, you should develop messaging around both your strengths and weaknesses. Play to your strengths, highlighting those areas where you know you have a better solution fit than the competitor. Put these in terms of priorities the customer shared with you—in other words, what do these differentiators mean to the customer?
You also need to develop messaging around your known weaknesses or shortcomings. Decide whether to preempt these questions or objections by bringing them up in advance (if it’s likely they’ll come up anyway) or at least be prepared to respond when the issue does come up. Expect the competitor to highlight these gaps and even embellish the truth.
You may also have to respond to misconceptions or false information planted by the competitor. The key here is to listen to the customer, and clarify the concern or objection. Then respond in a way that highlights your strengths and why you’re the best fit for the customer. Never bad-mouth the competition or argue about their virtues or weaknesses—return to your value proposition and strengths.
Finally, based on the analysis above, determine why you’ll win this deal. Consider the customer’s business needs and your unique strengths, develop “win themes” that you’ll repeatedly use to differentiate your solution.
By knowing the competitor, and planning for battle and responding accordingly, you can dramatically increase your confidence and competitive edge—and improve your chances of winning the deal.
About Ray Makela
Ray Makela is CEO and Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.