Who are we selling against? It’s a question I hear as I do deal reviews everyday. I see variants of this in blog posts, LinkedIn questions, and other discussions. I have a problem with that question, because I think, except in one case, it causes us to focus on the wrong things. It diverts us from performing at the highest level, or from developing compelling sales strategies.
Most sales people, in answering the question, focus on the competition. It’s important for us to be aware of the alternatives our customers are considering, but the issue of “who we are selling against” changes the focus of our strategy. It causes us to spend our time on developing strategies to beat the competition. Rather than serving the customer and addressing their business problem, we divert our focus to beating the competition.
Beating the competition is fine, but does that mean we are developing and presenting the most compelling solution to our customers? Are we presenting the best solution and creating the most value in helping them achieve their goals?
We all fall into this trap, we get diverted from focusing on our customers and serving them. A great friend reminded me of this the other day. We were reviewing the sales strategy for the most important deal his company had in their funnel. We were strategizing the final proposal and presentation to the key decision-makers. I asked the question, “What’s the competition doing?” He responded, “I don’t really care much about them. I know who they are, I know their capabilities and what they are likely to propose, but I can’t do anything about them. What I can do is make sure the customer we present our solution in a way the customer understand the real value we are providing, and the return they will get on their investment. I can only focus on putting our best solution to their needs in front of them.”
His response struck me and reminded me that too often we get diverted, we focus on the competitor and beating them, rather than focusing on the customer and demonstrating we have the best solution available. It may sound like wordsmithing, but it framing the issue to focus on the customer causes your strategy to be very different than one focused on beating the competition.
Who are we selling against? There’s another response to the question that really disturbs me. The other day, I was in a conversation with a colleague. He mentioned that when you remove all the niceties, sales is a predatory activity (I’m really taking his comments out of context and being a little unfair, but I liked the phrasing so I’ll use it). Too often, I think we are selling against the customer. Think about it, how often have you heard (or thought), “They’re so stupid, they really don’t get it.” What about those win-lose negotiations we get into? While I may be making an extreme case, I think unconsciously, we fall into a trap of selling against the customer. This can never be a winning strategy. If we can’t focus on creating a compelling solution to the customer, if we can’t communicate the real value we create, if there are better alternatives, we should stop wasting our time and the customers. We should go someplace else, we should focus on those were we can make a difference and help them achieve their goals.
To my mind there is only one legitimate answer to “who are you selling against?” It can only be: Ourselves. The true test of real professionals is whether we are performing at the highest levels we possibly can. Are we continually learning, improving, innovating? Are we measuring our performance and constantly raising the bar on what we do? Are we focusing on maximizing the value we create and deliver for every customer on every deal?
Somehow, I believe if we focus on these areas, we will win more often than not. Oh, and buy the way, we’ll beat those competitors we sell against?
What do you think?