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Go Ahead, Convince Me You’re Better

The prospective client said that the salesperson was going to have thirty minutes to convince him that she was better than her competitor, a competitor that the prospective client had partnered with for eleven years.

The prospective client wasn’t really interested in hearing how the salesperson and her company were different. He didn’t want to know what they believed made them better. In fact, he had already told his boss, the real decision-maker, that he didn’t believe any of the salesperson’s differentiators made a difference. He had a long relationship with their competitor, and he was comfortable with their people and their results.

The salesperson made a list of defining differentiators going into the call. She carefully prepared her arguments until she believed they were airtight and unassailable. She was prepared to do battle, even though she didn’t sleep the night before because she was so worried.

The morning of her thirty minute meeting, she shared her plan with her sales manager. Her sales manager listened carefully, and then she said, “Those are all good points and good arguments. But before you make that call, can I share another idea with you?” The salesperson eagerly agreed to hear he manager’s idea.

Her manager said, “By so aggressively making your case, your prospective client may feel the need to defend our competitor. He’s had a long relationship with them. He knows the people and he trusts them. He might feel like you are attacking them, or worse still, he may feel that you are attacking his decision to partner with them.” Her manager paused to let the point sink in.

She continued, “Another choice might be to not try to draw such a bright line between us and them. Instead, when he asks why we are better, maybe you could say, ‘Well, we know a lot of people that work over there and they’re all very good. They’re really a very good company. We have different business models, and we do a few things differently to make a difference for our clients. Can you share with me the things that you really need from a partner, and I’ll share how we might approach those needs? Maybe we can help determine if we are a good fit?’”

The salesperson followed her manager’s advice. The prospective client was delightful. There was no battle. Instead, the prospective client shared his needs, he asked good questions, and his responses were very positive. He was impressed with the differentiators.

Sometimes the very worst thing you can do is argue your case. You don’t need your client to entrench in defending your competitor or their prior decisions. You need a better conversation.


What are some effective choices for differentiating your offering when your prospective client challenges you?

What are the risks of attacking your competitors directly?

How can you draw distinctions without making your prospective client defensive?

Is differentiating your offering the only outcome you need from a challenge like this? What are some other important outcomes?

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  • Jay Oza

    This is a good post since everyone needs to think about this otherwise why should someone make a change.

    You have to be the next best alternative. This is what drives our economy. Clients get this since they would not be in business if they did not practice this themselves and if they were not that for their clients. It is just how business works.

  • James Ferguson @kWIQly

    This is a great straightforward post which mirrors our experience.

    As B2B we sell through large Enterprise resellers who often have extensive legacy systems that do some of what we do. So our approach is to first acknowledge the common ground and merely differentiate aspects that are complementary and so contribute to serving the end-clients of the enterprise.

    Why work antagonistically when partnership can be more fruitful. The issue is only that it requires a certain flexibility in defining our value propositions

    We have found that by positioning ourselves as “one step further” we can build on top of genuine proprietary value some of our clients have.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Sounds like it’s working, too! Thanks, James.

  • Maegan Anderson

    There’s no doubt to be an effective sales person, only that you must possess certain social skills. In order to win, you must be able to convince the prospect that the return on investment is worth it and the risk is acceptable.

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