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One client answered the call on speakerphone. He wanted to give me the experience he had every day. I wasn’t prepared to hear a competitor trashing my company and explaining how they would do a better job than we were doing. Nothing the caller said made any sense. I was amused. There was nothing professional about his approach.

Not more than 15 minutes later, my client answered a call on speakerphone a second time. The second competitor explained their company was much larger than mine, arguing they would be a better fit. When my client put the phone down, he said, “That salesperson is very impressive the first time you see them, but every meeting after that, you don’t want to see them again.” My client handed me a giant stack of my competitor’s collateral and their proposals. There wasn’t anything I didn’t already know.

Navigating the Sales Battlefield: Ensuring Competitors Stay Out of Your Client Discussions

If you sell a commodity, you need to be highly effective at displacing your competitor, exactly what the two salespeople calling my client's phone tried to do. To beat them for a deal, you must also be better than your competitors on their best day.

Your competitor is not in the room with you when you are sitting across from your sales champion. It is only the two of you, unless your contact brings others into the conversation—or unless you summon your competitor or competitors into the room with you. As soon as you say something about a competitor, you have invited them into the room. Why would anyone want to spend time talking about their competitors?

Elevating Your Status: The Risk of Discussing Competitors with Clients

Once you start to trash your competitor, you immediately diminish your status in your client’s view. It makes you look weak and suggests you are concerned that they will beat you to the client’s business. You are better off never mentioning a competitor, even the supplier the client is railing against as they explain why they are looking for a new partner.

When I published Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition, several people were unhappy with my first strategy when asked about my competitors. This strategy is to only say nice things about them. It would be something like, “We know a lot of people in the industry; many of them do good work. The only area where we are in conflict is their model.” Those who didn’t like this strategy were missing the point, all suggesting they would never say some of their competitors do good work. But because you are saying it, you are seen as an honest broker. Which leads us to a strategy that will allow you to remove all your competitors in one fell swoop.

Triangulation Strategy: Eliminate Competition with a Superior Business Model

I learned to use the business model because I was selling enterprise-level deals. Often, the first question was, “Tell us about how your model is different from your competitors’.” This is a difficult question until you know the answer. Once I understood the question well enough, I started to describe our model as a high-investment model, as this set me up to suggest my price would be greater than other models.

The strategy is called triangulation. This strategy allows you to remove all competitors from the playing field. To do this, you need to explain the different models your contact will find in your industry. Using this approach, you never name a competitor or an individual, even the bad actors found in most industries. So, how do you remove your competitors?

First, you identify what is good about the model. Then you explain what isn’t good about the model. You are above the playing field, the judge of each of the models found in your industry. At some point, you explain your model, helping the client to understand what challenges it comes with and why it is the best model for them.

There is more to this. You must get the execution right to erase your competitors from consideration. One company who adopted this value-creating competitive strategy did three years’ worth of revenue in one year, without saying a bad word about any of their many competitors. Others who have used this strategy have provided their clients with a meaningful difference among the models being used in their industry.

Given the choice of talking about your competitors and bringing them into the conversation with you, you are better off ignoring them. If you are pressed to say something about your competitors, say something positive.

If your competitor wants your client’s time, make sure they are going to have difficulty getting on their calendar. If you know you are going to be competing with multiple competitors, you want to be the last person to present your proposal and your presentation. By going last, you can ask questions about what your contacts like about the models they have seen so far, making it easy for you to recognize your top competitor and their business model.

More than a dozen times, my clients have asked me to determine which of my competitors they should use in states where my company doesn’t have locations. There are two reasons they asked me to give them advice. First, I tell the truth at any price, even the price of a deal. Second, I taught them how to think about the models and what they believed would produce the best results.

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Post by Anthony Iannarino on March 10, 2024

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. He is the author of four books on the modern sales approach, one book on sales leadership, and his latest book called The Negativity Fast releases on 10.31.23. Anthony posts daily content here at TheSalesBlog.com.
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