Why you may need to redefine your competition


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Who (or what) does your company really compete against? For the majority of B2B product or service offerings, the answer is unlikely to be restricted to a list of conventional “competitors” that look broadly similar to your own organisation. In fact, the key to achieving your full potential probably lies in redefining your sense of who or what your opposition looks like when it comes to your prospect’s time and attention.

But before you can consider your competitive landscape, you need to be clear about what markets you are going to address, what your most valuable prospects look like, and what problems you solve for them. In fact, for high-value, considered B2B purchase environments, being clear about the “problem you solve” is critical to defining your competitive landscape.

Here’s why: your effective competition includes all of the other options open to a prospect that recognises the problem and has decided to do something about it. These options might include other vendors that look somewhat like you or seem to fall into the same category, but they also include in-house/DIY solutions, completely different ways of addressing the issue, and deciding to do nothing.

Competing against “do nothing”

Having a prospect decide to “do nothing” after a long and resource-intensive sales campaign is particularly frustrating – but it happens all too frequently. The problem simply doesn’t appear painful enough for the prospect to risk disturbing the status quo. The remedy is simple: you need to “sell the problem” before you invest a great deal of time and resource in “selling your solution”.

If you can’t get the prospect to associate some significant cost or pain with simply carrying on as they are today, that exactly what they will do. And you will have lost to that most fearsome of competitors, the inclination to preserve the status quo.

Competing against radically different options

Sometimes you won’t even recognise that your prospect might be considering a different approach to solving the problem – and if you don’t ask, you’ll probably never know, until it’s too late. So make sure that your sales people are asking their prospects how they might have tried to solve the problem before, and what other approaches to solving the problem they are considering right now – no matter how radical.

Competing against DIY

Your prospect may be thinking that they could solve the problem through their own in-house efforts – and their IT department might be encouraging them to believe it. This can be a tricky one to compete against. If they have already tried to solve the problem in-house and have failed, you can promote your expertise and track record. But if you detect that they are considering in-house solutions as a first-time fix, you might need to encourage your prospect to think about their past experiences. How many times has an in-house approach really delivered the result they were looking for on time? And how much control do they really have over in-house resources?

Competing against conventional competitors

Last of all, the obvious competition – other organisations that look like yours (and that appear to play in the same categories). Here, you need to implement a “same but different” strategy – and here’s why: if the prospect believes that they need a category of thing (be it product or service) to solve their problem, you want to get found in that category when they start searching for a solution.

But unless you want to get boxed into selling on price, then you need to strongly differentiate your company from these other players – and the best way of doing that it is explain why your organisation takes a different (and provably superior) approach to solving the problem. Most important, you need to show how and why you are different before you claim to be better – the sequence is critical.

Who (or what) are you really competing against?

So – who or what is your organisation really competing against? How good a job are your sales people doing in identifying the options that their prospects are considering? And how clearly are they able to distinctively differentiate your offering against all the choices that the customer could make?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bob Apollo
Bob Apollo is the CEO of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the B2B sales performance improvement specialists. Following a varied corporate career, Bob now works with a rapidly expanding client base of B2B-focused growth-phase technology companies, helping them to implement systematic sales processes that drive predictable revenue growth.


  1. You have recommended a couple of valuable questions: “how they might have tried to solve the problem before, and what other approaches to solving the problem they are considering right now . . .”

    But there is a slightly different angle that merits sales exploration: “how are you compensating for (or dealing with) this limitation right now.” Sometimes, what companies do to overcome limitations leads to adoption of a patchwork of fixes. Some fixes bump, sputter, and burp, and others work so well that it’s unrecognizable that there’s a problem–at least not in the way we, as salespeople, see them. That bit of empathy is invaluable for salespeople, because in many circumstances, customers are able to live with pain quite well. What we need to look for often isn’t overt pain, it’s limitations. And in order to uncover limitations, different questions must be asked and answered.

    Also, one suggestion for redefining competition: “Any other project, product, or initiative, that requires the same limited funding source.” Many times, I compete with unrelated products that require spending the same dollars I’m after . . .

  2. Thanks, Andrew. You identify two very important additional “competitors”. In-place solutions that are not delivering the hoped for results can be either an opportunity (if their limitations are recognised and there is the will to address them) or a threat if the company, and in particular the sponsors, are in denial.

    The completely different “alternative ways of spending the money” competitor is a common one – and just for completeness I’d add “I’m just going to keep the money in the bank instead”. When you look at competition through the lens of the prospect’s other options, the true competitor list is often very diverse – and not always intuitive.


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