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Stealing Business From the Competition

If you place prospecting calls (hopefully Smart Calls) you probably often hear, "I already buy from X-Company," or, "We’re happy with who we’re using."

I know, at this point you feel like saying,

"X Company! What a bunch of losers. How can you be so dumb?"

Almost as bad–and what many salespeople actually do–is data-dumping a pitch explaining why your company is better. It’s confrontational, and only causes the prospect to harden his defenses.
Another strategy is to simply make a quick exit. Which might not be bad, depending upon your industry, and the quality and quantity of names you have to work on. Many stockbrokers take this route. After all, repeatedly running into a brick wall, rebounding off, reloading and ramming into it again isn’t the most efficient use of time if you have stacks of other leads staring you in the eye. Plus it hurts after a while.

But if your prospect pool is relatively finite, you can’t afford to burn through names. You need to take the next step.

Get Them Talking Your best approach is to engage the prospect in a two-way conversation. You see, prospects often say "I’m happy with my supplier," because it’s an easy way to get rid of a salesperson. It’s instinctive. It’s easy. Jumping into a pitch at this point not only falls on deaf ears, it’s unwise because you don’t yet know anything about them.

Engaging them in conversation, however, gets them involved, and gives you material you can work with.

A suggested route is to learn why they selected their present vendor. Once you know what influenced that behavior, you have insight into what to say so they’ll consider you.

But DO NOT say, "Why did you choose them?"

The reason is that "Why?" puts them on the defensive. It forces them to justify their selection. And it can be interpreted as an attack of their reasoning. You might as well poke them in the ribs with a sharp stick and then try to sell to them.

Saying, "Oh I’m sorry to hear that," or, "Any particular reason you use them?" has the same effect.

Instead, you want to ask questions that open them up, build rapport, and ease into a conversation about how they chose their supplier, again avoiding the stern "Why?" word.

For example,

"What influenced the decision to select them?"

"What prompted the decision to go with them?"

Notice that the last two questions take the emphasis off the person, and place it instead on the decision. It’s non adversarial, and is a soft way to get them talking.

By the way, I don’t favor the oft-recommended "What do you like best about them?" Some might argue it gives you insight into what they want in a vendor. I maintain it asks them to reinforce their decision to pick their existing vendor–the exact opposite of what we truly want to accomplish.

The Competitions’ Weaknesses What you should do now is ask questions designed to extract information not only on what his needs are, but also to point out your strengths and the competitors’ weaknesses.

For example, if you know X Company has poor quality–allowing them to charge that lower price–instead of blatantly slamming X’s workmanship, you’d ask a question to shed light on it:

"How often do you have customers return for service because of defective parts?"

"What do you do in situations when the units overheat?"

Now it’s not YOU disparaging the competition; they’re doing it for you. More importantly, they’re reliving their negative experiences as they explain them. Delicious.

I don’t want to paint too rosy of a picture here. Despite your best efforts, in most cases the prospect still won’t budge. Then your best tactic is to keep the door open for the future. After all, we’ve all had those written-off, discarded prospects who surprised us with a phone call announcing,

"You called us a couple of months ago, and we’d like to do business with you."

Here are additional questions that can make that happen more often.

"Do you have a backup supplier?"

"What type of contingency do you have in place if something were to happen where you needed something in an emergency?"

"If anything were to happen with your existing supplier, could I be on the list of people you would consider?"

Or tell them,

"Please put my name and number in your vendor’s file. If anything happens where they can’t provide you something when you need it, would you please give me a call.

Selling against someone’s existing vendor can be difficult–if you make it that way. Instead, get them talking, and you might find out exactly what you need to do to get your foot in the door.

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  1. 3 Comment(s)

  2. By Tammy on Nov 3, 2010 | Reply

    Art,
    Great article, I run across this every day and it is sometimes very hard to get them talking. I realized this morning while reading this that I’d gotten into the bad habit of asking “why do you like working with them?”. Thanks for the reminder!

    Tammy

  3. By carean on Nov 10, 2010 | Reply

    I’m happy i read this article,I’ve come across costomers like this every day. And I never continue the conversation when I hear “We have our own company” but now i know how to approach the situation.

  4. By Kelley Robertson on Nov 11, 2010 | Reply

    That “why” question can be a killer. I used to think that it was okay to ask “why” until I discovered that it automatically puts people on the defensive.

    It doesn’t matter what tone of voice you use, there is something in this questions that inherently causes people to resist.

    Great reminder to change “why” questions into “what” questions.

    Keep up the great work.

    Kelley

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