Dominating your competition today is not a “nice-to-have,” it’s a necessity.
The battleground for competitive differentiation has shifted.
The name of the game used to be having a unique product.
Now, that’s nothing more than a ticket to play the game.
It’s hardly a winning strategy by itself (read more about why that is here).
Instead, sales conversations — what salespeople say, do, and write during the sales process — are where the perception of difference is created.
There are specific things salespeople can do during the sales process to “box out” their competition and win competitive deals.
And send them home with their tail between their legs.
Here they are eight of them.
1. Lead to Your Differentiators, Not with Them
Explaining to a buyer how your product is different means nothing if they don’t value that difference.
You have one shot to answer the question:
What makes you different than your competitor?
If you answer with something that the customer doesn’t value, you’re stuck.
They’ll forever remember your answer as your differentiator.
So what do you do instead?
Educate the buyer on a problem or opportunity they’ve previously undervalued that ultimately leads to your differentiation.
Here’s an example we use at Gong.io.
Our account executives (AEs) start by educating the buyer about a problem:
The performance delta between their top producers, and everyone else:
Once the problem is framed, our AEs educate the buyer on why it’s a problem worthy of being solved:
Overachievement from your best reps is great!
But, it’s canceled out by everyone who misses quota.
You’re left breaking even at best or missing your number at worst.
Once the moment is ripe and the buyer is feeling the pain, now we introduce the difference.
We’re the only platform that can help you understand in detail what separates your top reps from everyone else:
The questions they ask, how they behave on sales calls, and what they talk about (and when).”
Do you see the distinction between leading to your difference vs. leading with it?
If that pitch had started with the differentiator, it may or may not have landed.
But when you educate the buyer on the problem your differentiator solves first, you’re not guessing. You’re selling.
2. Win the Competitive Battle Early
I’ll let you in on a secret.
Your competitors help you win deals.
We analyzed over 1M recorded sales conversations with AI.
It turns out when you discuss your competitors early in the sales cycle, you’re actually more likely to win the deal than if your competitors were absent from the deal entirely.
But be warned.
If you’re still discussing your competition late in the game, you’re less likely to win the deal than if your competitors weren’t involved at all.
Competitive deals are good… if you win the battle early on.
If you’re a sales manager reading this, your action item is simple:
Get involved in competitive deals early on.
Make sure you’re proactively alerted as soon as deals become competitive so you can help your rep with deal strategy.
As soon as competitors are even mentioned in an intro sales meeting, you can get an alert in Gong so these competitive deals are proactively brought to you.
Instead of competitors “flying under your radar,” there won’t be a single competitive discussion on your sales floor that goes unnoticed:
So… what’s your takeaway if you’re a sales rep?
Implement every other tactic you’ll learn in this article early in the game.
3. Set Landmines, and Know Your Competitors’
What’s a “landmine”?
It’s a question that you tell your buyer to ask your competitor because you know it will trip them up.
Ideally, these aren’t easily answered, proven, or refuted.
You should always have 2-3 (no more) “landmines” to feed your buyer as soon as you find out they’ll be looking at your competitors:
Are you GDPR compliant? Can you send me proof?
How can you proactively alert me to competitive deals?
The best “landmines” are not easily defended.
As much as I’d love to help you come up with your own landmine questions, it’s a situation-specific tactic that only you can answer.
The corollary to this principle is to know your competitors’ landmines, and how to answer them.
What tough questions do they “arm” your buyer with to try to stump you?
Highlighting the questions your buyers ask during competitive deals can help you identify what landmines your competitors are planting:
Once you identify the consistent patterns…
… The questions your competitors consistently plant your buyers to ask…
Now you can formulate bullet-proof answers to disarm them.
But before you go into the death spiral of answering competitive questions, and arming your buyers to ask landmines, it’s best to avoid the “comparison trap” to begin with.
4. Get Out of the “Comparison Trap”
If your differentiation is incremental — just slightly better than what your competitor has — you’re going to get caught in the “comparison trap.”
This is where your buyer resorts to creating a spreadsheet to compare the two products and make an “intelligent business decision.”
It becomes a bakeoff, triggering what I call the “spec war.”
You one-up your competitor with Feature A.
They match you and one-up you on Feature B.
The cycle continues until the buyer sees the products as more or less at parity with each other.
So they resort to grinding you both down on price until the “winner” is she who erodes the integrity of her pricing.
What’s the solution?
Your differentiator has to be “meta” rather than incremental.
It should be something that takes the buyer out of comparing you and your competitor side-by-side.
Here’s an example…
Occasionally, we at Gong.io find ourselves selling to B2C sales call centers (rather than our core market: B2B sales).
This opens up a new set of competitors: Speech analytics providers who have been serving the call center world for over a decade.
When we enter competitive situations and the buyer asks how we’re different, the worst thing we can do is explain how our features are better in some way.
So we change the perception entirely:
“We’re the only solution designed specifically for sales.”
“The other solutions are great, but are built for service, tech support, etc.”
When we’re selling to a sales call center, this resonates, and it’s an incredibly simple message.
They no longer have the perception that we’re in the same category as the speech analytics providers they’re already familiar with.
“Gong.io is different because it’s specifically for sales.”
Our product marketing team here keeps a close eye on helping our sales team avoid the comparison trap.
Every time a competitor is discussed on a sales call, we can an immediate alert and review that section of the call within minutes.
This helps us make sure our sales team is trained-up on the right competitive messaging.
When we hear reps getting bogged down in the comparison trap, competitive training follows shortly after.
5. Change Your Strategy Based on Sales Cycle Stage
The point in the sales process your competitors were first discussed should dictate the sales strategy you take.
For every deal in your pipeline, get a bird’s-eye view of all of the calls, meetings, and emails along the timeline of the sales process to identify where competitors were discussed throughout:
A competitor entering the mix early is a completely different deal dynamic than a competitor entering the mix late.
The latter may require you to “untangle” your customers’ current buying criteria, even though it’s the last thing you want to do because you just want to close the deal.
Be warned, failing to “unteach” what your buyer learned from your competitor late in the game is an easy way to fall into the “comparison trap” discussed earlier.
6. Find a “Weakness within Their Strength”
“Competitive judo” is a much better strategy than exploiting your competitors’ weaknesses.
When you play against your competitors’ weaknesses, they are either refuted or corrected.
In either case, it’s an unsustainable competitive sales strategy.
What works much better than playing on weaknesses is to use their own strength against them.
Here’s an example…
When Burger King became a serious competitor of McDonald’s in the 80s, they took inventory of McDonald’s strengths.
Ultimately, they found McDonald’s was highly valued by children — it was the place for kids to have fun.
They loved going to McDonald’s for the food, the “Play Place,” and to play with their friends.
So Burger King decided to use that strength against them.
They launched an aggressive marketing campaign that positioned Burger King as being “for grownups.”
It was the place to eat when you wanted a hardy burger rather than another “Happy Meal.”
Not only did this attract adults…
It attracted young children who wanted to be perceived as adult-like.
Absolutely genius strategy, if you ask me.
After all, what could Mickey-D’s do?
Their entire positioning was built around Ronald McDonald, Happy Meals, and their Play Place.
Burger King brilliantly used that strength against them.
7. Focus on a Single “Hot Button”
Early in his career, when Gong’s CEO Amit Bendov was an enterprise account executive, he lost a painful deal to a competitor.
When everything was said and done, he asked his rival — the salesperson he was competing against — out for a beer so he could understand why he lost.
“Simple,” grinned his competitor.
“I stuck with one (and only one) difference that I know the buyer valued.”
“You bounced around so many differentiators that you diluted your message.”
Amit would never make that mistake again.
Communicating a message is a bit like pouring a glass of scotch.
If you add just a few drops of water, you’ve got an excellent drink on your hands (bonus points if you drink it in front of a fire place).
But, if you flood the scotch with too much water, you’ve got a diluted, watered-down “cocktail.”
Messaging works the same way.
The less you try to get across, the more your message will “pack a punch.”
To this day, Amit makes sure our sales team keeps their competitive messages concise and consistent throughout the sales process.
8. Continually Improve with Win/Loss Analysis
A good competitive selling strategy should be enduring.
But none last forever.
And they can always be refined and improved.
Your sales strategy is not a “set it and forget it” to-do list item.
It’s an ongoing, never-ending project that requires continual “sharpening.”
The first step to refining your sales strategy is understanding what’s working and what’s not.
What is the “profile” of a lost competitive deal compared to a won competitive deal?
Take a look at a few accounts you lost, and pull them up.
What do they look like at a high level?
Where were the competitors discussed?
How many meetings were there?
What does the activity velocity look like?
Dive into some of the calls, meetings, and emails.
Who were the buyers?
What were their needs?
How did the rep handle the competition?
Do this a few times and your pattern recognition will kick in.
You’ll pick up specific things that should be eliminated for your team to win more competitive deals.
Repeat the process for won deals.
Why are you winning?
How are you playing your cards differently?
Is there a common pattern?
Talk to buyers.
Get your product marketing team involved and ask them to lead a customer interview campaign.
Why did they choose one vendor over the other?
What was the turning point or “aha moment”?
Do this on a quarterly basis, and you’ll wake up next year to an entirely different market position.
Tying It All Together
Sales conversations truly are the competitive battleground, and more than ever, it’s imperative that you dominate your competition.
Being blind to sales conversations as a sales leader is like being a platoon commander in the midst of a chaos-ridden fire-fight with no communication or enemy intelligence.
Sales leaders that have visibility into their team’s sales conversations have an unfair advantage.
They can “call in airstrikes” from product marketing, get in the trenches themselves, and help their reps chart their deal strategy.
That’s why conversation intelligence technology is the ultimate “competitive command center” for the sales organization.
Want to see how it works?
Get in on the action. Dominate your competition by transforming your sales conversations.