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Competitive Sales: A Comprehensive Guide to Winning Over Your Competitors' Clients

Discover why maintaining a positive outlook on your competitors can boost your sales effectiveness and reputation.

When I published Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition, a number of readers reached out to suggest one of my sales strategies. This strategy was to never say anything negative about a competitor. One suggested that you would be better off thrashing your competitors. In the enterprise-level deals I was selling, my contacts tended to be mature business people. This is what you do when you are in a displacement sale.

Oftentimes, my prospective clients would ask me how my model was different from the hundreds of competitors in my territory. This question was designed to understand how my company was different. Occasionally, a prospect would ask me about my opinion of their existing supplier or suppliers when they needed more than one provider. Instead of saying something negative about the competitor, I would answer with the truth. I would say, “We know them, and we have friends there.” The only thing we disagree on is the model they use.

This sales strategy is subtle. First, you are acting as a professional instead of stooping to criticize the competitor. When you criticize your competitor, your contact may believe you are afraid of your competitors. Instead of removing them from the competition, you provide enough intrigue and interest to cause your client to invite your competitor to meet with your prospective client.

Because I used so few words, you might not recognize that I suggested that I know my competitors well enough to know their people and their model. You might not have noticed that I left the playing field and started to criticize the model, explaining that my clients were good people with an inferior model.

Avoiding Negative Competitor Comments: Key Risks and Strategies

If I were your sales manager, I would tell you to avoid saying something negative about a competitor. First, you are bringing your competitor into the room with you and your contact. Second, any negative comment about your competitor lowers your status instead of improving your sales status. Third, you project that you are worried enough about the competitor that you are trying to poison the well. Fourth, your conversation is negative instead of being a positive sales conversation about the client’s problem or the better results they need.

One day, I was sitting with a client that was spending $3,000,000 a year. His phone was on his desk in front of me. I didn’t expect him to answer the phone in the middle of our conversation. He put one of my competitors on speakerphone. I was treated to my competitor telling him why he shouldn’t be working with my company. I thought it was funny. A few minutes later, another competitor called, and again I heard another competitor explaining that they should remove me and my company. Nothing they said would cause my client to replace me with my competitors.

My client was showing me how many calls he was getting every day. Before I left his office, he handed me all of my competitors' proposals, presentations, and collateral. The stack was about three feet tall. There was nothing I wasn’t already aware of in all this paper.

Leveraging Triangulation Strategy for Competitive Advantage

Over time, I became an expert in my industry. I knew all my competitors and their models. I learned their models sitting across from my prospects and my clients. So instead of speaking of my competitors, I would leave the playing field and provide an objective view of the different models being used to deliver value. This sales strategy grew out of my clients always asking about my model compared to my competitors.

To rid myself of all these much larger clients and the low-price bottom feeders, instead of talking about my model, I started to share all the different models, explaining what was good about the model, followed by the concessions the client should expect from the model—no matter the competitor. Leaving my model for last, I would confess that we were certain to have a higher price, but for that premium, they would not suffer the concessions of my competitor’s models.

Establishing Expertise, Authority, and Objectivity in Sales

In a later book that extends this idea, Elite Sales Strategies: A Guide to Being One-Up, Creating Value, and Becoming Truly Consultative, instead of sour grapes, you project that you are an expert and an authority in your industry. This positions you as someone who knows their competition and how they deliver value.

The B in B2B sales is for “business.” You are a businessperson or, better yet, a consultative salesperson. It is imperative that you are a businessperson. You want to be a professional, confident in yourself, your company, and your sales approach. When asked about your competitors, you can say something nice while attacking their model—not the competitor.

Effective Sales Strategies: Why I Never Speak ill of My Competitors

I don’t speak ill of my clients because there are better sales strategies for removing your competition, starting with your sales effectiveness and your sales methodology for creating value. Your sales conversation and your ability to build relationships should be your focus. Much of the time, your competitor is never mentioned. I would avoid bringing up a competitor.

But that said, the triangulation strategy creates value for the client that is trying to pursue a change initiative. You may not be aware of modern sales methodologies.

Other Resources on Competition

Post by Anthony Iannarino on June 18, 2024

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino is an American writer. He has published daily at thesalesblog.com for more than 14 years, amassing over 5,300 articles and making this platform a destination for salespeople and sales leaders. Anthony is also the author of four best-selling books documenting modern sales methodologies and a fifth book for sales leaders seeking revenue growth. His latest book for an even wider audience is titled, The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.

Anthony speaks to sales organizations worldwide, delivering cutting-edge sales strategies and tactics that work in this ever-evolving B2B landscape. He also provides workshops and seminars. You can reach Anthony at thesalesblog.com or email Beth@b2bsalescoach.com.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, X or Youtube. You can email Anthony at iannarino@gmail.com

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