We don’t often speak to the fact that selling is a form of competition. In a contest measured by the value the salesperson creates, there is a winner and a loser. The victory often goes to the salesperson and sales organization who can solve the client’s problem, the best of whom solve the problem before it’s a problem. We give to little attention to the need to more competitive in sales now, with most people merely going through the motions, doing their job, hoping to win. This is how to be more competitive in sales now.
Competition to Displace
Right now, your competitors are calling on your existing clients. Some of these competitors pose a threat to the future of your relationship. Even if you delude yourself into believing your competitors are all terrible, their results likely prove different. Your competition intends to displace you, removing you from the relationship altogether, and taking the business for themselves and their company. Sometimes they achieve their goal, and you lose business.
You know this is true because you are calling on companies that belong to your competition. You are trying to take your competitor’s clients from them, making you a threat to your competitor and their business. Both you and your competitor are both susceptible to being displaced when you are apathetic, complacent, or entitled. You also lose when you stop creating the value that won you the business in the first place.
Because selling has moved in the direction of creating displacements, the strategies and tactics for doing so have improved to the point where more salespeople and sales organizations are capable of creating a displacement without having to wait for the client to be dissatisfied enough to change. Instead, the salesperson and their teams create the environment for displacement and compel change. Even though many sales organizations haven’t adopted these practices (we are slow to make difficult transitions), there tends to be some in every industry.
Retention as Competition
Retention is also a competition. It is difficult to grow sales while losing clients and customers. It is difficult to get out of a hole while you continue to dig. You are competing to keep your clients, and there are two ways to prevent being displaced: Execution and New Value.
- Execution: If you don’t execute well, you open the possibility of being displaced. If you can’t produce the outcome you sold, your client is going to have no choice but explore relationships with someone who can. Retention is one part execution.
- New Value: The best way to avoid being apathetic, complacent, and entitled is to create new value for your client. To create new value, you have to develop and win a new opportunity or create some change that improves the result you are producing—or forms an improvement in some other way.
If you don’t execute and create new value, there are plenty of people who will.
Competition for New Entrants
Sometimes you compete for a client who is buying what you sell for the first time. These prospective clients have no existing relationship and are exploring their options. The competition here is in some ways easier because you don’t have to remove a person and company with a long history of working together. It is also in some ways more difficult because your prospective client often lacks an understanding of what you sell, the choices available to them, and the trade-offs and concessions they are making without really understanding them.
There is one winner in these contests. In mature markets, there are not too many of these contests, and the winner can keep a client for years before their new client ever considers changing, making the stake high for all who compete.
There are rewards for winning and consequences for losing. Some believe it impolite to speak about the rewards and the consequences of winning and losing. They prefer not to think of selling in terms of contests or winning and losing. Some believe that the idea of competition breeds terrible behaviors, and maybe for the segment of the population already in possession of low moral intelligence, that could be true. However, in more cases, competition compels good sales behaviors, as far more salespeople have high moral intelligence and do not possess a “whatever it takes” attitude when that means giving up their integrity and reputation.
The consequences of losing contests are many. When you are displaced, you lose the revenue, the profit, some part of the relationship, and the financial rewards you would have earned had you retained them. Your company also lost the financial rewards, but they might also have lost a strategic client, a reference for future acquisitions, reputation, and in some cases, market share.
In business, some competitions create a disruptive in the market, displacing and harming a whole industry, as Uber and Lyft have done to the taxi industry in major cities (something that happens to industries over time, and a threat this is difficult to discern if you are not of the mindset to disrupt yourself before it happens to you).
How to Compete
- Believe It Is a Contest: To win a contest, you have to believe you are competing. It isn’t enough to show up. You have to possess a strong desire to win. When a contest has consequences, you have to bring your very best effort to the competition. You are not served by showing up, and there is no benefit of just doing your job. You have to play to win.
- Focus on Creating Greater Value: There is no reason to focus on your competitor. You cannot do anything about them or their approach, even if they always win by lowering their price. The way that you compete in a contest for a client’s business is in large part is creating greater value than your competitor. You win by being more valuable to your client than your competitor. You tilt the playing field in your direction when your dream client perceives more value.
- Create a Preference to Work With You: We don’t spend nearly enough time on this concept. Clients decide that they want to work with someone more than they want to work with someone else. When you lose, they decided they want to work with your competitor. Your approach to selling is a differentiator. So is your bedside manner, what it’s like to work with you. Your business acumen and situational knowledge also help position you as the right partner, as your competency creates trust. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of intangibles.
- Make Every Interaction Count: If you believe you are making another sale call, you are not playing the game as well as you could. When you think you are engaged in a contest, a struggle where you win or lose, you treat each interaction as if it is critical to the outcome—because it is critical.
- Leverage Every Resource Available: It is a mistake not to engage with the people on your team who might help you win a deal. If you can, bring your leadership into the contest. If there are things you can do, like visiting their site and meeting with their teams to better understand their world, you do it. If you can invite them to your location for a whiteboard meeting to share ideas, make it worth their while to join you. Use every resource available to you to win.
Sales is a competition, and you are a competitor. Even though we don’t talk enough about competing, winning means recognizing you are in a contest and playing to win.
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