The sales call started nicely. The sales person started asking me questions about my business, what I wanted to achieve, challenges we faced. He asked the alternatives we were considering.
Then things went south, really quickly. He asked me what I like about the competition. At first, I thought it a clever approach. He might then start to talk about his solution in the context of the things I highlighted. He could help me learn about his company’s approach to dealing with the same things. He might help me think about different ways to achieve the same goal. He might help me think about other things that I hadn’t mentioned.
Instead, he started to attack the competition. He started focusing on what was wrong about the competitor’s solutions. I thought to myself, “Gee, I thought the approaches were pretty interesting. Does this sales person think I’m stupid.”
I was uncomfortable with the sales person’s focus on the competitors. I tried to shift to learn more about how his solution could address the issues I sought to address. He talked about some of their capabilities, what it might mean to me. But he was defensive, he always talked about what they did in the context of the competition. Everything he did focused on his reaction to the competitor, not on the distinct things that made the solution he was presenting that addressed my priorities.
I began to wish, “Would he just ignore the competition, would he talk about how his solutions would achieve my goals?” But his obsession with the competition, kept me thinking more about the competitor. Where I wanted to focus on him and his products, his approach kept bringing the competitor back into play.
I’m sure he didn’t mean it, but his focus on the alternative I was considering actually got me more focused on understanding that alternative. I began to think, if he focuses more on the competition than his own solutions, perhaps he is telling me something.
Our customers will always consider alternatives–they should. It’s helpful to understand which competitors they are considering, what they like about them. This helps us understand our customers better, it helps us understand what they think is important, perhaps things they should be thinking about but aren’t.
But once we understand this, our strongest position is to leverage this, talking specifically how we can help the customer achieve their goals. We focus on the value we can create. We focus on how the customer might think about the issues differently. We can help the customer learn, help them consider different approaches. Our job is to help customers learn, help them consider new approaches and ideas. Our job is to demonstrate how we can help them achieve their goals more effectively than any other approach.
Obsessing about the competitors and what our customers think about them, may just reinforce the competitors’ positions, rather than thinking differently.