Beating the competition in an undifferentiated market


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When is selling the most fun?   Certainly when you have a superior product. Perhaps it’s even a “killer product”, like the Xerox copier vs. the mimeo machine.

Unfortunately with global competition and advanced manufacturing technologies, those days are rare and if they do occur they are difficult to sustain. Today even when you have a superior product a competitor is likely come out with one that is just as good or better than yours in half the time of yesteryear.  Or you come face-to-face with the dreadful “it’s good enough” response.

So let’s take the worse possible case.  You are selling in a market where the competition either has products that are just as good as yours or they have products that are perceived by the customers to be “good enough” compared to yours.  How do you adapt your selling strategy to these market scenarios?

Here are two strategies:

  • Better understand the competition as viewed by the customer.
  • Adjust your sales strategy to the undifferentiated market reality – you have to do some things differently.

Let’s take at look at both strategies starting with developing a better understanding the competition.

Managing the competition.  As the old saying goes – “you have to keep your eye on the ball” and the ball is the customer. Particularly in an undifferentiated market, keeping an eye on the customer is key when it comes to executing an effective sales strategy for beating the competition. It is easy to take your eye off the ball and fall prey to the trap of getting in a defensive mode by reacting to the competition. It is critical to stay focused on the customer’s needs, challenges and concerns. Top sales performers focus on the customer and manage the competition.

If you focus on the customer and can answer these four questions (CAPS) about the competitor you have a better chance of executing a sales strategy where you win and they come in second:

  • Capacity. What is the customer’s perception of the competitor’s major capabilities and limitations?
  • Assessment. Why is the customer considering the competitor for the present opportunity?
  • Performance. If the competitor is presently in the account what are they doing exceptionally well and poorly and why?
  • Strategy. What is their sales strategy for the present opportunity?

Adjusting your sales strategy.  How can salespeople differentiate themselves from their competitors in an undifferentiated market?  Over the years we have asked that question to sales managers. Here is what they said:

  • Sell a total solution To differentiate, sales reps must move beyond the product and identify the value-adds that will help the customer achieve their business outcomes.
  • Understand all aspects of the competition. The competition isn’t just the other company or its products – it’s also the company’s sales reps. So know the competitor’s sales reps, their histories with the account, and their relationships with the customer.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of relationships Although effective B2B selling is not just about building relationships, selling is still a personal business. People buy from people they know and like – so get to know all the people that are engaged in the buyer’s decision journey and understand what value means from their individual perspectives.
  • Be an effective communicator.  Do what you say you are going to do, if you don’t know don’t pretend, if you make a mistake admit it, correct it, and make sure you don’t repeat it, have unbridled enthusiasm, and convey a compelling belief in your company.
  • Create an accurate picture of the competitive landscape.  Learn your natural supporters and adversaries and spend time developing willing and able internal champions.  Determine how much impact the various players have on the buying decision and have an accurate picture of the competition’s perceived position from the customer’s view.
  • Look at the big picture. Understand the external issues facing the company – e.g., economic shifts, regulatory changes, and industry trends.
  • Leverage your experience Bring breadth to the sales environment by helping the customer see how other companies have tackled similar issues – have the stories available to bring that experience to life.
  • Be aware of passive competitors.  Passive competitors are products or services that aren’t direct competitors in that they don’t do what your product or service does – but they are competing for the same bucket of money.  This happens more often than one might think – a medical device, for example, not being adopted by a hospital because resources will be dedicated to buying capital equipment.
  • Helping the customer understand the consequences of inaction. It’s very common to go through a sales cycle and find out at the end that the customer decides that doing nothing is preferred course of action.  Sometimes this happens for good reasons – like the customer decides they are not ready to make a purchase or the resources required aren’t available. In other cases, they don’t want to deal with the disruption that the purchase might bring.  Here you can sometimes beat the competition by helping the customer see the consequences of inaction.

In the end, if you are going to beat the completion in an undifferentiated market you must distinguish yourself by how you sell, not just by want you sell.  You have to be the competitive advantage.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Janet Spirer
For more than 30 years Janet Spirer has worked with the Fortune 1000 to craft sales training programs that make a difference. Working with market leaders Janet has learned that today's great sales force significantly differs from yesterday. So, Sales Momentum offers firms effective sales training programs affordably priced. Janet is the co-author of Parlez-Vous Business, to help sales people have smart business conversations with customers and the Sales Training Connection.


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