Understanding our competition is critical to our success as sales people. Too often, though, I see sales people underestimating their competitors and what their customers may think of their competitors. As a result, they fail to develop a winning strategy or are outsold by the competition.
One of the primary reasons sales people underestimate the competition is they’ve “drunk the Kool Aid.” Great sales people are proud of the companies they work for, they are excited about their products and solutions. They believe in them so strongly, they think nothing can compare. This level of excitement and passion around the company, it’s products is great–but it blinds the sales person.
We start falling into the trap, “We’re the best,” “Nobody has the same level of ___________ (insert appropriate word: technology, features, functions, performance, quality, etc.) that we have?” “We’re the bggest and best!” What ever it is, it blinds us and threatens our ability to win.
It’ important for sales and marketing to be able to step outside of ourselves, to not be blinded by “how great we are,” and to look at ourselves the way others might see us. How does our customer perceive us? What are their attitudes toward us, our company, our solutions? How do they perceive the alternatives? What are their attitudes toward the alternatives? There’s a simple way to get this perspective–ask the customer. Listen, probe, avoid the urge to defend and correct. Just listen and learn. Collect all the information, take the time to develop a strategy to deal with it, then execute the strategy sharply.
What about the competition? You can bet your competitors are looking at you trying to figure out how to beat you. Why don’t you put yourself in the competition shoes? Ask yourself the question, “If I were the competitor what would I be doing to beat us and win?” Put together a “red team*” to try to beat your “blue team.”
Do what top athletic teams do–look at the game films. Look at past situations where you have competed, what did the competitors do, what actions did they take, what strategies did they execute, how did they respond to your actions and strategies. In this case, the “game films” might be past wins and losses. Learn from those in developing stronger compeititive positions.
Do these as dispassionately as possible–it doesn’t do you any good to fool yourself–after all the objective is to find the holes in your strategies, to understand your exposures, and then to correct your strategies so you can win.
Andy Grove, the retired chairman of Intel, wrote a great book, Only The Paranoid Survive. I liked the book, the title has been a constant reminder to me. There is always someone looking to beat you—however certain or favored your competitive position may be, a little bit of paranoia is always healthy.
*The military always uses Red/Blue team concepts to test their vulnerabilities and build stronger capabilities. For example all the “Top Gun” schools have a Red team squadron—they fly the enemy’s aircraft, study and use the enemy’s tactics and strategies and do everything they can to outmaneuver, outfly, outfight the blue team. By using these challenges, the blue team learns their vulnerabilities, creating stronger capabilities of their own. It’s a cornerstone of military strategies, it’s a great way to build strong business and sales strategies.
FREE eBook: Understand How Your Customers Make Decisions, email [email protected] for a copy