All sales people hate competition. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of selling – it's always there and you have to beat the competition. If competition isn’t evident in a particular selling situation, chances are it will surface sooner or later.
Direct competition in a selling situation significantly increases the complexity of the sales process. Not only do you have to understand what the buyer wants and how your solution addresses the buyer’s needs, but also how your solution stacks up relative to the competition.
Of course how you compare to the competition is based on the perceptions of the buyer, which is something you can influence. So how can you achieve a competitive edge in situations where you are selling against competitors? The key is to have a process in which you carefully analyze the competition, identify a strategy for your competitive presentation, and selecting the appropriate method when presenting your offering.
Analyzing the Competition
The first step in achieving a competitive edge is to identify your competition and know their strengths and weaknesses in depth. This requires ongoing research, awareness, fact-finding, and questioning. In order to make a competitive comparison you will need to:
- Take inventory of everything you offer– product features, company strengths, support services, value-added benefits, and so on.
- Rank each aspect of your offering (e.g., definite disadvantage, slight disadvantage, seems equal, slight advantage, definite advantage) relative to the competition.
- Identify your relative strengths and weaknesses.
The objective of a competitive comparison is to identify how your total offering addresses product needs and business concerns more effectively than the competition's total offering. In other words, you are looking for the reason a buyer should select your total offering over the competition. A total offering means all of the benefits your product or solution provides the customer, including benefits that go beyond those that are directly provided by the product or service itself. These can includes special services; company experience and reputation; training, consulting, engineering, technical, or some type of support services; the relationship between you and your customers; promotions; financing options; and so forth.
Ranking each aspect of your offering relative to the competition allows you pinpoint your strengths and allows you describe where differences are in your sales presentation. It enables you to compare each component of your total offering, and then identify your advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes, the total impact of all the features is more significant than any one feature, and the total offering provides the comparison. (In other words, the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts.
Each comparison will differ based on the buyer's priorities, who your competitors are, and which products or services you are selling. That being said, a thorough competitive analysis will serve as the necessary starting point for presenting the information to the buyer in the most effective way.
Identifying a Strategy
After you have conducted the competitive analysis, you need a strategy for your sales presentation. Your basic strategy must be determined by how you assess your relationship, high or low, with the buyer, and whether your competitive analysis has positioned your overall advantage high or low relative to the competition.
Looking at the matrix above, the ideal position is when you have a “high” relationship with the buyer and “high” advantage. In this case, it makes sense to confront the competition directly with the buyer. That means you present the buyer with a detailed analysis of how you compare to the competition, including relating your strengths to the buyer’s needs.
Make Subtle Comparison
A less desirable position on the matrix is the lower right hand quadrant: high advantage but low relationship, or one that has not been fully developed. This requires a more subtle comparison. Avoid mentioning the competitor by name, since the buyer may have a strong relationship with him or her. Try achieving some type of “balance” in your presentation in order to build your credibility by occasionally admitting a minor advantage of your competitor.
A much more challenging situation is when your relationship is high, but your advantage is low. Here it is important to try to leverage your relationship to the extent possible as well as focusing on the few areas where you have some type of advantage.
Find Different Tactics
Finally, the lower left-hand quadrant is the most challenging because you have neither a strong relationship nor a competitive advantage. Here you will need to be creative. Perhaps you can identify one small advantage you have and emphasize its importance with data or testimonials. Another tactic is to admit a disadvantage and turn it into an advantage (“Yes, we are a small firm, but that means your account will be managed directly by a partner.”) Or perhaps you can bring in members of your company’s senior leadership team to reinforce interest, dedication and importance.
Presenting your Offering
The presentation method you choose should be determined by your relationship with the decision-maker and the extent of the advantage you possess. Here are four common methods:
This method works well when you have identified the decision-maker’s priorities: product/service needs and business concerns. If you can match up your strengths (over your competition) with these priorities, it will make a powerful presentation. For example, if the decision-maker’s main concern is service and your competitive analysis provides you with high marks in this area, then build your presentation (and competitive comparison) around this priority.
#2 Top 3
Another approach is to focus your efforts on the three features where you have identified in your competitive analysis where you have the greatest advantage over the competition. Why three? Three is not a magic number (it could be two or four, for example), but limiting your presentation to three key features and related benefits allows you to be more focused and get better results. However, this technique works best when you have significant advantages in a limited number of areas.
#3 Vulnerable Feature
If the competition comes up in one area where they are particularly vulnerable, this can be a logical point of attack. Obviously, you have to be subtle in using this method, couching your comparison in phrases like:
“Let’s compare our delivery with brand X; a tight deadline is a big concern on this project,” “I know you are also considering XYZ’s new product, and while both products provide similar benefits, I’d like to show you why ours can provide a better return. Let’s compare the two in terms of total cost of ownership over a 5 year period...”
In most cases, if you use this method, try to select a vulnerable feature that is important to the decision-maker, rather than building your story around a relatively minor or insignificant one.
#4 Total Comparison
The total comparison method works best when your analysis provides a broad range of advantages and weaknesses when compared with a specific competitor. While you normally will not compare every feature with the decision-maker (due to time limitations and lack of focus), you should select a number of features (about 6 to 10) to compare. From a tactical viewpoint, it’s a good idea to include some features where you have a slight disadvantage to give your presentation the appearance of “fair balance.”
While you can’t control the competition, you can carefully shape your sales presentations to maximize your competitive strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
About David Jacoby