6 Ways Competitive Intelligence Improves Sales Win Rates

I consult for over a dozen companies every year, and no one ever brings up competitive intelligence. Lots of sales managers want reps to focus on their prospect’s competitors. Of course, I agree. Demonstrating an understanding of your prospect’s competitive environment is great way to build trust. This makes sense, and it’s effective. But it’s only part of the equation.

What about your competitors? You – the Seller, have to sell against your competitors whether you know they’re involved with your prospect or not. (All of your prospects are online, and yours isn’t the only content they’ll find in their internet research.)  Competitive intelligence (CI) about your competitors should educate your positioning of your brand so your competitive advantage remains clear, even when they’re reading someone else’s material.

Think about it. Your competitors are calling your prospects, too. Some of your prospects are your competitors’ current customers. Other prospects used to be your competitors’ customers. All of your prospects are going to do some internet research, and they’ll read material written by your competitors. How do you stay in the lead?

Every sales call is also a marketing and prospect education experience. It’s one on one branding time with your target buyer. And to make it effective, Sellers need to understand and maximize their position in the competitive space.

 

Preparing for Cold Calls/Sales Calls

Adding steps to your pre-call plan might mean you’ll make fewer calls, for sure. At least, it can mean that. But you’ll definitely close more with accurate and complete CI. There are great, and often free,  software tools out there that make competitive intelligence fast, easy, and concise. But if you don’t have the software, individual reps still need to know what’s happening with the competition. Here’s why:

If a prospect is on your radar, chances are competitors are trying to win them, too—some of them, at least. Even if your main competitor is the status quo (no solution in place), there are pluses and minuses to your competition. And of course, most Sellers face competing brands.

Yours is not the only value proposition your prospect is hearing. And if your pitch sounds a lot like the Competitor’s pitch, why should the prospect talk to you?

Whenever you make cold calls, you should deliver a differentiated value proposition. And the Competition’s solutions are not carved in stone; they usually change and improve over time.  This means you need to keep informed to make sure your message and differential advantage are unique. When the Competition changes, you may need to update your messaging.

Add this to your CI report about at least your top 3 competitors:

Brand Identity

Pitch

Value Propositions

Differential Advantages

Competitor Sales Agreements (when possible)

 

When the Prospect Currently Uses the Competition

We’ve all been there, as Sellers. We do the research, take a few breaths, and dial the Prospect. They pick up. We deliver our opener. They ask why you’re calling. We deliver our engaging sentence.

And they say, “We use the Competition.”

Awkward! But it shouldn’t catch Sellers flatfooted. If there was no way to overcome that statement, Sellers would never gain any market share.

Instead, before starting your cold call push, check your competitive intelligence on your top three competitors. One has user experience problems, and a poor customer service rating. One has holes in their coverage. And one is substantially more expensive.

Now, when the Prospect says, “We use Competitor A.”  You can come back with, “Ok, understood. And how are you finding the user experience?”

This becomes your engagement statement. Ideally, the prospect will confirm that they’re unhappy with the user experience, and you’re in.

You have three of these in your toolbox because you have up to date competitive intelligence. Now you have your original few engagement statements or questions, plus a specialty pack.

Does this tactic work in every situation? Of course not! However, you’ll land more discovery meetings than you would have without it.

Add this to your CI report about at least your top 3 competitors:

Customer Reviews

Consistent Competitor Strengths, and how to respond

Consistent Competitor Weaknesses, and how to position our brand

Winning Formula– key takeaways for each of the above

 

When the Prospect Fired the Competition

Unhappy Prospects are often mad at the industry as whole when they feel they’ve been burned by one company. That’s understandable – their limited data set (one Competitor) says this is a useless product.  As a Seller, you’re not so much competing against another company or product as a very specific negative experience.

When a Prospect says, “We were burned by Competitor B, and we’re done with that product,” what they’re really saying is, “We have a healthy skepticism of your industry as a whole.” That’s something you can deal with!

It could be that Competitor B sold to a Prospect who wasn’t properly qualified; they didn’t really need the product. Or the Prospect couldn’t afford it. Or Competitor B set lousy, unreasonable expectations. So maybe this isn’t the right Prospect for your product, either.

Or maybe the Prospect is clearly qualified. So, you go on. Without competitive intelligence, all you’re armed with is, “I’m sorry to hear that. May if I ask what the issue was?” Not bad, but not great. Why would they want to tell you? It’s a cold call, and the answer may be long.

With a little competitive intelligence homework, you could make your engagement much stronger. Using that same three competitor intelligence report, you have some insight. “I’m sorry to hear that. May I ask, did your team find trouble with (known issue)?”

The answer could be “no,” but at least you’ve gotten an answer – and, you may learn about a different weakness that your team wasn’t already aware of. And if the answer is “yes,” you’ve written an engagement plan for that. Use it. Then you’re in a good position to make the case as to why your solution is superior to Competitor B.

Add this to your CI report about at least your top 3 competitors:

Engagement plan for each weakness of each competitor

 

When the Prospect is Shopping…

Sometimes your Prospect will tell you, point blank, “Just so you know, we’re also evaluating Competitor A.” This is fantastic! It makes it very clear what differentiators you need to use, and how to manage your discovery and alignment phases of your sale.

But sometimes you just know they’re collecting “other bids” or speaking to “other companies.” And really, every opportunity is competitive, in that as we discussed earlier, everyone uses the internet for research. So even when we think we’re the only provider in the mix, we have to assume the Prospect is looking online.

You’re running a meeting one day, and out of the blue, the Prospect asks, “Can you show me how your product interfaces with my CRM?” That sure is oddly specific. And it’s part of Competitor C’s playbook.

Now, is it possible that they came up with this question on their own? Sure. But it’s more likely they recently sat with Competitor C and got instructed to ask this question, or they found in in Competitor C’s online content. Competitor C is doing their own competitive intelligence, and they know this will be tough for you as a Seller. Of course, they’ll be pushing it to keep you off balance.

Your competitive intelligence report should contain the types of the questions your Competition tends to plant – and the tactics you can use. Then none of this catches you by surprise. And if it contains the Competitor’s playbook, you’ve got this!

Add this to your CI report about at least your top 3 competitors:

How does each competitor want to frame the sales conversation?

What questions do they plant?

What format will they try to force?

Engagement plans for overcoming Competition framing of the sale

 

…And the Prospect is Always Shopping…

At the tail end of a successful cold call, as the prospect is looking through their calendar to find time for a discovery call, they tell you, “Just so you know, we’re also evaluating Competitor C.” Smile, and schedule the appointment.

For the sake of this example, let’s say the biggest flaw with Competitor C’s platform is that audience segmentation requires a ton of manual effort.

Fast forward to the following week, and you’re meeting with the Prospect for the discovery call. You ask them about their goals, and they say, “The biggest thing for me is time savings. I need to be able to automate the majority of my current workload.”

This is an ideal opportunity to differentiate your product. You did your CI homework, reviewed your call notes from last week, and you’re ready. Your audience segmentation is fully automated, and you can highlight this to your buyer. You’ve prepared some engagement notes that outline just how much time can be lost to having to perform audience segmentation manually, and you just happen to use that as an example. You mention that some other platforms do not have this feature, and highlight the time savings.

Ideally, this differential advantage helps you book a demo at the end of your discovery call. And when the time comes to run that demo, you’ll know of at least one key feature to put on display.

 

…Up Until the Last Minute

We’ve all been there. The sales process went smoothly. The Prospect was happy. The proposal went out. And we waited. And waited. *crickets chirping*

What happened? Maybe your Prospect requested a proposal from your Competition, too. And maybe theirs was written better than yours. Maybe theirs was specifically written to take one more shot at your offering.

Remember, proposals often are read internally by all the Prospect stakeholders at a minimum. Maybe you haven’t met with some of them in a while, or some of them were never declared to you in the first place. How do you reach them effectively?

Your proposal is often your last chance. And you need to get it right. On your second page, it’s helpful to have a declaration page of what the key deliverables are, and what the rational for each of those deliverables is. Yep, you guessed it, it’s another opportunity to frame your sale on your terms. Use phrases like:

“You requested maximum time savings, so we’re proposing our Silver package, which fully automates your processes.”

“You requested a scalable solution, please note the scalability specifications on page 4.”

The three strongest words in any sales conversation are “you told me.” In any proposal, they’re, “you requested.” Focus both on the most important client needs, and on describing your deliverables in ways that feature your differential advantages. Don’t let the Competition get one over on you at this critical stage. Use your CI to tweak your language, and win the deal.

Your weekly CI report should now contain the following for your top 3 competitors:

Brand Identity

Pitch

Value Propositions

Differential Advantages

 

Sales Agreement (when possible)

Customer Reviews

Consistent Competitor Strengths, and how to respond

Consistent Competitor Weaknesses, and how to position our brand

Winning Formula – key takeaways for each of the above

 

Engagement plan for each weakness of each competitor

How does each competitor want to frame the sales conversation?

What questions do they plant?

What format will they try to force?

Engagement plans for overcoming Competition framing of the sale