3 Tips for Unseating the Incumbent

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You’ve had a prospect on your target list for months, but can’t crack the code to unseat the incumbent vendor. And what’s really frustrating is that you know the incumbent can’t provide the value you and your company can offer. Several prospecting attempts have resulted in the classic response, “We’re happy with our current provider.”

It’s time to change your thinking and approach in order to ensure better outcomes when trying to replace an entrenched competitor. Take a look at how Sales EQ (emotional intelligence) and Sales IQ (consultative selling skills) can help you replace incumbents. 

#1: Apply empathy. Yes, I know your company provides a better service or solution. And deep down, the prospect probably knows it as well. But remember that people buy emotionally, not logically. Look at the world from your prospect’s view: 

  • My current vendor is messing up on some things. But they always take care of us. Can this new vendor really deliver? Will they take care of us?
  • I’ve been doing business with Betsy for years. She was with us in the early years and took care of us. I feel like a traitor for considering another vendor.

Stop selling and instead, step into your prospect’s shoes. State what they are thinking or feeling to make an emotional connection and start a real-world conversation.

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“Jim, it sounds like your current provider has made a few missteps. However, with that said, if I was on your side of the table, I’d be wondering if we can really deliver, or is this just another one of those overpromise, underdeliver sales conversations?” PAUSE.

“Karen, you and Betsy have been doing business for 10 years. And I know the clients we work with value relationships, as you do. So, if I were you, I’d be feeling very torn about moving the business due to that existing relationship — even if there are things my company can do better. Am I correct?”

Empathy elevates the sales conversation and changes the sales conversation.

#2:  Avoid generic, one-size-fits-all prospecting approaches. Often, when I ask salespeople who the incumbent is, I am met with a blank stare or “I don’t know.” Here is a basic selling principle:

If you don’t know who the incumbent is, it’s going to be very hard to design tactics and strategies to unseat them!

Figure out who is the incumbent. Then design value propositions and questions designed to expose gaps in their offerings — without ever mentioning the incumbent’s name. For example, the incumbent may provide really great local service. However, you know that your target prospect is expanding nationally and needs national resources to meet customer needs. When reaching out to prospects, lead with a customized value proposition based on the specific trigger event of expansion. 

“Ms. Prospect, many of our current clients were really happy with their existing vendor. However, they were open to taking a look at our organization because of the changing demands from their clients who needed national resources, not just local.”

#3: Examine your self-talk. Has anyone, besides me, talked themselves out of a sale before starting the sales conversation? “They have been doing business with XYZ Company for years. Pretty sure they aren’t looking to switch.”

After conducting that conversation in your head a few times, you either don’t pursue that prospect or show up pathetic and apologetic.

Apply the emotional-intelligence skills of self-awareness. Recognize and change your self-talk. Change your thoughts and you will change your actions, and how you show up to each sales conversation.  

Your target prospect has been doing business with XYZ Company for years. But is XYZ Company capable of offering them ALL the services they need?

Find a gap in service offerings and go after it rather than pursuing the portion of the business the prospect is most worried about giving up. Once you have a foot in the door, provide OUTSTANDING service and expertise. Earn your way to the top.  I built my first sales territory by starting as the No. 2 vendor.  Four years later, I was the valued incumbent in that region. 

Unseating the incumbent is not easy. It takes paying attention to your sabotaging self-talk and being empathetic to your prospect. It requires applying delayed gratification and building out customized value propositions rather than generic ones. 

Good Selling!

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