What Does It Take To Dislodge A Competitor?

In this issue, we’ll look at some specific strategies for gaining a foothold in a crowded marketplace – even when your competitor seems to be entrenched as your prospect’s sole supplier.

Sarah Haynes was a top sales performer in her first position right out of college. In fact, she won every sales award there was to win in her first 3 years. She was so good that she was constantly being contacted by competitors, headhunters and other sales organizations outside of her industry for her sales expertise.

The product Sarah sold was a brand new, state-of-the-art software solution that addressed a serious issue facing many businesses. With such a new and innovative product, Sarah faced few real competitors. Her major challenge was a simple lack of awareness about her company and product. Sometimes a tough sale… but at least it was on an uncluttered battlefield.

After she was sales rep of the year in her 4th year she finally decided to take one of the many sales positions that had been coming her way for the past three years. The one she took offered 1/3 more salary and double the commission and bonus opportunity. What a deal!

Within 6 months, Sarah was not only failing to make any sales, she was also miserable. Within a year, she was fired from the new position. The reason for her failure was very clear – but not one that she could easily resolve.

What was it?

Her new job involved selling another high-tech, high-ticket product. After all, Sarah was smart enough to know that she wanted to stay in a similar industry. And beyond that, she figured that sales is sales – how different could the new job really be?

Her new product had been on the market for almost a decade and her new employer had developed an exciting new upgrade to the product that promised great things for both new and existing customers.

The problem for Sarah? She entered a crowded battlefield – a marketplace literally loaded with highly competitive products and crushing price demands. She now had to forget about a simple sale and start to dislodge competitors from accounts where they had been for as long as a decade.

The lesson here? While it may be true that sales is sales, you do need to understand that there are significant differences between the varied environments where you do the selling. That’s a painful lesson that Sarah learned too late.

In Sarah’s case, her problem was a lack of skill and understanding in two areas:

• Dislodging existing vendors
• Selling against price pressure

The truth is that these two realities are often intertwined. In fact, they are so interdependent that one without the other is virtually impossible.

Let’s take a look at some strategies that can help you dislodge a competitor who’s already well-established in an account you’re trying to enter.

First, here are the “don’ts”:

  1. Don’t disparage or badmouth your competition.
    Not only does bad-mouthing others reflect poorly on you, in this case, it’s actually an insult to your prospect. After all, your prospect chose the competitor as their supplier – you’re actually questioning your prospect’s judgment and implying that they made a bad choice.
  2. Don’t try to buy the account with low pricing.
    This tactic will only create the expectation of more concessions and price-cutting from you in the future – to the point where it may cease to be a valuable account. AND, if you do win the account solely because you offer the lowest price, you’ll be vulnerable to any other discounter who comes along and offers a better deal.
  3. Don’t give your product/service away to create demand.
    You can’t create a demand without building value and giving your product away sends the message that it doesn’t have value. It also positions you poorly with the prospect from the outset.
  4. Don’t be tempted into trying to convince the prospect that having only a single supplier is bad business.
    By that logic, your competitor shouldn’t choose you as a sole supplier either.

Now, here are the things you should do:

  1. Determine specifically why your prospect is buying from your competitor.
    Is it price, service, compatibility of equipment, loyalty? Study it and be able to do it better.
  2. Continue to develop regular, ongoing opportunities for you to have a physical and psychological presence in the account.
    Send meaningful, relevant updates on products, progress or new services you provide.
  3. Position yourself as a top-flight, unflappable professional who provides only high quality service and products.
    Be the person who can be trusted to implement meaningful solutions quickly, adeptly and with little loss of time.
  4. Become a student of your competitor.
    Learn their product benefits and how they sell and retain accounts. Then develop a strategy that does what they do even better. Remember, your prospect bought from them for some reason – redefine that reason and take it to another level.
  5. When studying your competition, do your best to determine their vulnerability.
    Is it service? Technical support? Relationships? Pricing inconsistency? Billing problems? Remember, no one is perfect.
  6. Develop an internal ally within the prospect’s account.
    If you discover the current supplier has vulnerabilities, find out who’s affected by them in your prospect’s organization. The person who’s frustrated with the current supplier will be most likely to champion your cause.
  7. Position yourself as a real, true industry expert.
    Be the one who others “in the know” rely on for advice. Word gets around – and will likely find its way to your prospect as well. Be available to provide valuable insight, knowledge and assistance. Begin to make yourself a resource to their industry.

It was too late for Sarah – she didn’t learn these strategies in time to succeed at her new job. She did find another job. But she decided to return to a marketplace that was less crowded and found a position that did not require dislodging current suppliers from existing accounts.

But she did learn a few valuable lessons:

  • All sales positions are not the same.
  • Dislodging current suppliers is long-term, strategic work that requires persistence and patience and a little creativity in order to identify and make the most of every opportunity.
  • She would work hard to retain her customers in her next job because eventually, someone would try to dislodge her, too.

What about your sales position? What does it require? Remember, while sales sometimes is sales, not all sales positions are created equally.