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7 Tactics to Gain a Competitive Advantage

Alana Kadden Ballon

July 22nd, 2016

The number one competitor nearly all companies face is “no decision,” when a prospect decides to stick with what they have. According to SBI, 58% of evaluations, result in companies maintaining the status quo. And yet, competitive information is the most frequently requested sales enablement topic we get from sales teams.

Why? Because the best reps know that the presence of a competitor increases the odds that the prospect is serious about the evaluation and will ultimately purchase something. Nonetheless, many reps still commit a competitive cardinal sin: they think just listing off the differences will win the deal.

Many sales reps rely on the prospect to tell them which other companies they are considering and then rattle off the differences. By then, it could be be too late. The competition has already set traps and you are stuck playing defense. Go beyond a simple list of differences. Don’t be afraid to qualify out; working deals you can’t win wastes valuable sales time and puts you far behind your competitors overall.

Providing coaching on how and when to position against your competitors in the sales cycle can dramatically increase your win rates and drive sales productivity by qualifying out earlier. Here are the 7 areas reps should be differentiating, what reps should do at each stage and a sales tool to create:

  1. Before Qualification: Do Your Homework

Clue #1: Evaluate who they are connected to.

Are any of their key customers or partners flagship customers for your company or the competition?

Did your prospect recently connect to someone who works at a competitor on LinkedIn? Follow them on Twitter or other social platform?  Post in a forum about their evaluation?

What you need to do: Study up. If you see they are connected to a competitor, study up on how you are different and be ready as you head into the sales cycle to identify needs that only your solution can solve and stories of customers who have selected your solution over your competitors’.  

  1. Qualification & Discovery

This is the most important step because it can set up the rest of the evaluation in your favor. Of course, you will ask who they are evaluating, and they may or may not be forthcoming.

Clue #2: They ask about functionality where your competition excels. This means they have probably spoken to your competitor already.

No matter what their answer, it’s important to get your prospect to both articulate and prioritize their needs.

What you need to do: Demonstrate your subject matter expertise by telling them stories about a similar customer. Share that customer’s top priorities (which you can uniquely solve), and ask your prospect if they have similar needs. It might be something that the prospect hadn’t considered. If they have a partnership or other close connection with your partner, respectfully ask them about it.

Determine if your solution is a good fit. Dig deep into their needs and decision criteria to determine what the true requirements are, if they are willing to pay a price premium and the cost of the problem they are facing. If their top requirements are a perfect fit for your competition or cost is the only consideration, ask yourself: Is this deal winnable? If not, if you suspect that you are merely being evaluated because they have to look at 2 options, qualify out and find deals that you can win.

Get a list together of common red flags that mean you could be losing to the competition.

Sales Tool: List of questions to ask to uncover differentiated needs vs. each competitor

  1. Identify a Coach and, if possible, a Champion

Clue #3: The buyers will or will not engage with you individually

According to IDC, most decisions will have over 8 decision makers, so you will have a lot to choose from. You need a coach who will give you the inside scoop after the meeting is over. Ultimately the winner will be the solution with the strongest internal advocates, so find a champion who will make your case to the rest of the purchasing team. Your coach and champion are likely two different people.

What you need to do: Build rapport and gain trust with as many people as possible to find the person or people who can fulfill these roles. When you think you have found these people, engage with them 1:1, find out what’s in it for them individually if this project is a success and work to make them successful. Map out your relationships at the account, including who you think can influence the decision and who might be pulling for the competition.

This is another time to validate whether or not, based on the players, the deal is winnable. If IT makes all decisions and they like the competition, share your concerns with your prospect. A true coach or champion will provide tips on how to win over the team or examples of when they have been overruled in the past. If they don’t provide any help, you haven’t found a coach or champion.

  1. Discovery Follow-up: Set the Evaluation Plan

After discovery, send an email summarizing the prospect’s goals, needs and outlining the evaluation and the agreed upon decision criteria. During discovery, you suggested requirements based on similar customers you know your competition can’t win – make sure to include that.

Summarize what you heard during qualification and discovery and get confirmation that this is indeed correct. Don’t let your competitor win because they checked a box on an RFP list; make them show it.

What you need to do: Create a customized evaluation plan. Guide the evaluation when competing against certain competitors. Do you need them to test out certain functionality? Mock-up a complex process? Test with a certain data volume?

Sales Tool: Sample evaluation plans for each competitor

  1. Demonstration

Prospects complain that demonstrations all look the same. Even weak products can put together great demos. The key, which you are probably already doing, is to tie everything back to their decision criteria and set traps for your competitor.

What you need to do: Don’t bad-mouth the competition. Summarize your prospect’s needs upfront and how your solution meets those needs. Link areas of your solution to the prospect’s needs and validate with stories about customers and what they found valuable – and where your customers found the competition to come up short. For example: “Customer X found that other solutions they evaluated couldn’t do this, and cost them ______ (time, money, productivity, etc.).”

Set up strong next steps to prove out what they saw.

Sales Tool: Demo script that includes where to point out value propositions that are competitive differentiators against different competitors

  1. Trial or Proof of Concept

Follow the evaluation plan you recommended in step 4. Prove out the solution strengths that will meet their key needs. Be honest with your prospect about what to expect and how to prepare. Be honest about areas of your solution that might be a bit clunky, if you did your diligence in step 2, those aren’t their top needs.

What you need to do: Get the prospect’s hands on your tool. Make the picture you have painted a reality. Make sure they hold your competition to the same standards.

Sales Tool: Trial or POC checklist for each major competitor of things that must be included in the evaluation to set you apart.

  1. Negotiation

In loss data, the most common reason cited by reps for a competitive loss is price. If you did your due diligence earlier in the process, you should never lose on price at this stage, even if that is the reasoning the customer gives. Don’t just send over a price and don’t create it in a vacuum.

What you need to do: Determine that if costs were equal, they would select your solution. If that isn’t the case, the selling might not be done. If you are the recommended vendor, use the cost of the problem you gathered in step 2 and ROI benchmarks gathered from other customers to frame your investment proposal. Work with your coach and champion to structure the deal in a way that works for your team.

Sales Tool: ROI calculator and sample executive presentation


At every stage, stay paranoid – ask yourself, and your prospect if necessary: why will we lose this deal? Engage at each stage on a personal level, continuously validate the prospect’s needs and position how you can uniquely meet them. Never stop proving the value, but don’t be afraid to qualify out if there are too many red flags. Happy selling!

About the author

Alana Kadden Ballon

Alana Kadden Ballon is the founder of Inqune and has helped build sales enablement programs and tools from the ground up for companies including Square, Trifacta, FinancialForce, Silverline and Okta.

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