It is natural to focus on your direct competitors and arm yourself with a long list of features and benefits with competitive comparisons that clearly show you are, by far, the best choice. It is important to have this information and position yourself correctly, but it is not important early in the selling cycle. In fact, arriving at the direct competition stage is a major victory. It shows that you have bested your biggest competitor: Your prospect.
As mentioned in a number of articles in this collection, I have only one placard on my desk. It says, “If time is not working for you, it is working against you.” Every sales rep understands this statement and can think of current or recent instances when they experienced this notion. Invariably, prospects do not feel the same sense of urgency as you do to issue a purchase order, take the time to seriously investigate your offering, or even question their internal need. Quite simply, their priorities rarely are your priorities. Therefore, your biggest competitor is the tendency for prospects to do nothing.
Prospects may not even be aware that they should do “something” by not even knowing that they have a problem that needs to be solved. They may have a “good enough” solution, or “bigger fish to fry,” or believe that it is “not their job” to even consider what you are offering. There are many more rationalizations that prospects may use that are similar to those listed. A good method of determining if your prospect is in what you think is a state of denial is your own feeling that “they just don’t get it” or “if they would only take the time.” If you find yourself blaming the prospect for their lack of foresight, look in the mirror. The problem may be that you are trying to sell your offering instead of first selling the need for your product or service.
Once you have made a prospect aware of the need to address the problem that you or the prospect has identified, your next biggest challenge is to move the prospect’s view from a “nice to have” to a “must have”. As an example, I have a fifty-inch flat screen TV. It would be nice to have a sixty-inch flat screen TV. I am sure that local retailers would love for me to think of a new, larger TV as a “must have.” Unfortunately for them, it will be a very long time before I make that mental transition. Do your prospects feel the same way about your offering compared to their current solution or method of addressing the problem?
Overcoming the awareness and “must have” hurdles is still not enough. Your prospect probably has many “must haves,” all with different priorities and internal champions. Moving your offering to the top of the list is the next competitive challenge. Think of the last time you were in a Big Box store or in the mall, there were probably many “nice to haves” and “must haves” in most every department or aisle. Did you buy anything?
Your competitive strategy must begin with winning your prospect’s attention. Until then and unless you win this battle, nothing else matters. Spend the appropriate time winning this battle first.