Sales strategy – defeating the invisible competitor


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Competition is present in every major B2B account. Today it is diverse and dynamic and not just based on price. Having a clear picture of the competitive landscape is crucial to crafting a successful sales strategy.

When most salespeople think about the competition they usually think of the companies they regularly face as competitors. Interestingly, this is only one source of competition in major account sales.

There are two others: passive competition and competition for resources. Both sources are important for salespeople to consider and to keep on their radar screen. After all whether you lose a sale to a real competitor or to a customer who decides to do nothing, or to a customer that decides to spend its resources on something else – you still lost the sale!

  • What is passive competition? Sometimes the most challenging competition is the customer “doing nothing.” In major accounts there are two sales going on at the same time. First you have to be perceived by the customer as better than the competition. The second sale is about the customer perceiving the value of committing resources to changing the status quo. To win the second sale salespeople need a strategy for overcoming the no-decision momentum. In many cases the salesperson wins the first sale and loses the second and ends up with no new business.
  • A second source of competition comes from broadening the definition of competition. Often the competition is not for a similar product or service but a “competition for resources.” What happens is a company who is selling an entirely different product is competing with you for the same budget resources.

Regardless of the type of competition there is an old saying that conveys some wisdom to winning against competition. The old saying is – “keep your eye on the ball.”

When it comes to formulating an effective strategy for dealing with competition, the ball is the customer. For example when it is a real competitor it is easy to take your eye off the ball and fall into the trap of getting in a defensive mode by reacting to the competition. They set the rules – you play their game. That is not an effective way to manage a competitor. Successful salespeople know it is critical to stay focused on the customer’s needs, challenges and concerns. Top performers focus on the customer and manage the competition.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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


  1. Richard – I just posted a blog on this topic, 5 Common Myths about Prospect ‘No Decision, which I wrote because I had a lot of dissonance about it. Many sales experts have written that salespeople often lose to ‘no decision, but I believe this is rarely true.

    With the possible exception of our Federal government, most decision makers reach decisions. Even if the decision is to delay a project or to table a proposal, it’s still a decision. So I found the semantic inaccuracy in ‘no decision’ had become misleading for sales teams, and the confusion was warping their sense of what really happens in buyer discussions. A decision for maintaining the status quo is a choice (therefore, a decision). And the widely-held sales belief that prospects are suffering is not always true. Workarounds are in place or they are available, and they are often adequate. In IT, we even have a term for it – ‘good enough.’

    A similarly confusing idea that often accompanies this is that a major competitor for salespeople is ‘no decision’ or ‘do nothing.’ Agreed that if you’re a salesperson, ‘do nothing’ is an undesirable outcome, but I felt that trying to compete against something that has unclear meaning, no motivation or purpose, no tactics, and no resources was an exercise in futility.

    That left me challenged to define ‘competition’ in a sales context. After thinking for a long time about this (too long!), here’s what I wrote: “Competitors are people who intend to thwart your goals, and have means to do so. Without motivation, strategy, tactics, and resources, no decision, by itself, can't compete. If a company chooses stasis, it's because someone prevailed in selling that choice.”

    One goal in formulating this definition was to provide a face to it – that is to attach people to the outcome. Companies don’t make decisions, people do. So by recognizing that a decision to keep things as they are is something that a person (or persons) could want and argue persuasively to achieve, salespeople can better identify the strategies, tactics, buyer connections, and conversations they need to have in order to achieve the outcome they want.


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