7 Practical Tips for Creating Competitive Strategies That Your Sales Team Will Love

When was the last time you took a hard look at your company's competitive strategies and tools? And when was the last time you got direct feedback from your sales team on whether they're really effective or not?

Done right, competitive tools can influence the most valuable opportunities - the ones where there is budget and timing, where real money is going to be spent - preferably with your organization, not a competitor. Done badly, they can (rightly) be an incredible source of frustration for sales teams who are on the receiving end of lower sales effectiveness.

My simple acid test is this:

You have a prospect meeting tomorrow. Do you have full confidence that the competitive strategies you have on hand will materially impact the deal in your favor. 

Typical complaints that I’ve heard from sales teams who are living this acid test  include:

  • The information is too vague to be effective.
  • It's too verbose and hard to digest.
  • It’s simply not hard hitting enough to influence an opportunity.
  • Some of the points are outdated or just plain incorrect.
  • The competitor already neutralized the competitive points.

Sometimes there is no outright owner for competitive analysis, or ownership is diffused across the organization (in both cases typically problematic).  In other cases, even when there is an owner, the competitive intelligence is heavily discounted by sales as simply not sharp enough to be effective - the "owner" is just too far away from where the rubber meets the road.

So, here are my top tips for creating a competitive process that the sales team will love (and will love you for driving!):

  1. Be proactively competing - even before there is a competitor. Your sales organization should be setting the agenda from the moment they walk in the door, to deposition the anticipated competition. For example, is it a SMB opportunity or a large enterprise one? Is it for a senior decision maker, or a mid-level one? Are the competitors broadly different based on these segments? If you carefully define your segments and map your key messages and differentiators to them, your sales people can be proactively competing and setting traps -- so they are set up to win from the very first meeting.
  2. Map your competitive strategies into every sales stage from initial meeting to close. A competitive sales tool doesn’t stand on it’s own. Your sales person should be differentiating from the very first engagement, because if they wait until the last moment to set the agenda, they’ve probably already lost the deal. So think each stage of the sales cycle – from setting the agenda in the first presentation, to calling out differentiators in a demo, to benefit justification tools, customer proof points, to final bake off. It's a whole a competitive playbook so that competing and differentiating is a journey, not an event.
  3. Structure a team so that the competitive intelligence is relevant, right and always up-to-date. The most grievous issue I’ve seen is simply when sales doesn’t buy into the competitive information they’re equipped with. So, I’d recommend establishing a team per major competitor and use collaborative tools to stay current. The team should consist of prospect facing roles like sales and sales consulting (or even an outside win/loss firm if you can make it work - more on that in a future post) who are dealing with the competitor every day. If you’re driving the project, your job is to collect and distill that tribal knowledge, and do it continually. That way, you get buy in from the sales team, and you have confidence in the strategies you're delivering.
  4. Be timely. Getting timely competitive info out in front of sales is incredibly valuable – perhaps it’s an award, or an analyst report, or maybe a competitive misstep. Regardless, get the information out quickly, and provide sales with the messages on how to position it – that way it can directly influence sales opportunities that are in flight, right now.
  5. Put yourself in the salespersons shoes when you’re creating a competitive cheat sheet. It can’t be too verbose or abstract (I’ve seen a 30 page competitive guide before – who has the time to read it?!) – it has to be pithy material that can be quickly absorbed and effectively delivered.

    Key items to include: Two sentence elevator pitch; Competitive switch names / soundbite; Competitive win sound bites (ideally industry specific); Metrics (see below); Analyst proof points; 5-10 quick competitive points; 5-10 responses to incoming competitive Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD); and key points to show and reiterate in a demos.
  6. Create some quick memorable tribal metrics. Do you have many more customers than a particular competitor? Or perhaps grow much faster according to an analyst? Maybe your R&D is much higher, or your customer satisfaction is stronger on 3rd party review sites like TrustRadius. Institutionalize these as metrics and share.
  7. Turn a Negative into a Positive The temptation to “bash” the competition is often felt from sales. But study after study has shown that prospects respond differently, and often negatively to bashing – and besides, if the prospect selects the competition, you still don’t want to have impacted a future sale by damaging your brand. Focus on equipping your prospect to make a decision based on your benefits, rather than bashing the competitors that your prospect is considering.

Solid competitive strategies are one of the key areas where marketing or sales operations can really move the dial with sales. Let me know if you need a little help breaking the inertia with your competitive strategies!