Lots of salespeople don’t know how to handle competitive selling, they don’t know how to consistently compete and win.  The only time many salespeople seem to handle the competition with any degree of success is when they discount heavily and in effect “buy the business”.

 The big question has to be “Why is this?” Several explanations come to mind, however the simplest and most straightforward argument may well be the most accurate. Could it be because there is very little information available on competitive selling skills. Virtually nothing has been written on the subject. Check the content in any sales books you come across as we suspect that very few, if any, address competitive selling.  If we’re not able to guide, mentor and train good salespeople to reach new heights then we really can’t be that surprised if they don’t raise their performance in line with our expectations.

Salespeople invariably fail to sell against the competition because they know about just one thing: their product or service. To sell against any competitors you ought to understand not only what they are offering but also more importantly what your prospects want or need.  Salespeople that lack an in depth knowledge and understanding of their prospects are unable to differentiate themselves from the competition. If you haven’t studied your prospects you will have nothing to talk about except yourself and the one thing you do have a good understanding of namely your products or services. You will not devote enough time to the most important subject of all, your prospects requirements, desires and needs.  We know prospects don’t buy products and services, they buy the benefits, the results that the products and services bring about. To truly understand which benefits and which results will be relevant, you must have a full and complete knowledge of your prospects.

You can add more value if you have more information about your prospects, and the greater your competitive edge will be. Understand absolutely everything you can about a prospects history, their current situation and just as importantly about their plans for the future.  Learn about their concerns, their issues and their problems, understand their aims, objectives and goals.  You cannot know too much, you can however say too much.

Many salespeople lose out in a competitive selling situation because they overlook minor differences between themselves and their competition. Do not prejudge the importance of any differences for what might seem minor to you may be of significant importance to your prospect. Again the more you know about your competition the easier it is to sell against them.  Find out what they sell, where they’re based, what are their strengths and if possible what are their weaknesses.

Most importantly never, ever rubbish the competition, it’s unprofessional and the prospect is very likely to be put off you as much as them. However you can differentiate yourself providing you know where the differences are.  Collect competitors quotes and proposals, making sure you fully disseminate them later on.  Where you have a good rapport with your customers ask them for their thoughts on your competitors.  You’ll be surprised how enlightening this can be.  The key of course is getting to a point where you have a good idea how the competition sell, once you’ve reached that stage it becomes easier to sell against them.

Sometimes salespeople lose out because they do not prepare, they have no game plan. Telling is not selling. Telling your prospects why your product or service is so much better than the competition is not as effective as asking questions that lead the prospect to tell you why your solution is best. Try the following three-step process for gaining competitive advantage.

Firstly, identify the unique strengths of your products, services and support and what they are in comparison to the competition.

Secondly, make a list of all the problems the prospect could face in the future if they don’t have your unique strengths.

Lastly, ask the prospect questions about these possible future problems. Look for mutual agreement on the costs that the prospect could incur as a result of those problems.

What we’re trying to do here is take the traditional Unique Selling Points (USP’s) and turn them into Unique Customer Benefits (UCB’s).  If you can help the prospect to see how your offering is more relevant to their situation.  If they hear your message and really feel that you’re on their side, you’re much more likely to win the business.

Never lose sight of the fundamentals when dealing with a fiercely competitive marketplace.  People buy from people that they believe are similar to themselves, they buy from people that they like.  People buy people in short.  You have an opportunity to secure a sale if you’re in front of a client, you’ll struggle to do this remotely.  If you’re on a face to face meeting you can judge the customers reaction to your proposal, you have an opportunity to question them more comprehensively.  You’re there and the competition aren’t.  For no other reason than that, if everything is equal and you’re there and the competition are no where to be seen then you can pick the order up and they can’t.

Competitive selling is for most of us unavoidable, and you therefore need to be able to handle it when it occurs.  In some situations the only way you can beat the competition is by doing a deal. However it makes sense to avoid as many price-war situations as you can.  To do this focus on your prospects wants and needs, understand where they’re coming from and where they want to go and you will really pull ahead from the competition.