Farquharson | on Business Development: Unseating the Competition
Why is it so hard to unseat the competition? All you are asking the customer to do is fire the incumbent vendor (one who might be well-ingrained in the account and possibly even a friend); reexamine a problem that they thought they had solved; generate a ton of paperwork; fight through the shark-infested waters of office politics; onboard a new vendor; get to know a new set of people, their processes and procedures; and take the risk of making a bad decision. That’s all. What’s the big deal?
Of the many objections that you will hear, “We already have a vendor” is quite possibly the most difficult to overcome. Of course they already have a vendor! What were your expectations — that you’d call and they’d say something like, “You sell print? Wait until I tell the others! Everyone, we’re saved!”
Any army general will tell you that it is far easier to defend a position than it is to attack and take over. The incumbent has the upper hand and the inside track for sticking around. Even if they have a less-than-perfect track record, the aggravation factor in changing vendors is high and oftentimes customers stick with the devil they know so long as the errors are minor and not critical.
That doesn’t make the fight not worth it. It just means that you have to do more than fall back on the often-heard reply, “Can I be your backup?” or “Do you have anything I can quote on?” To those responses, a symbolic “clunk” could be heard as a large, metal door closes shut.
It’s no wonder why beating this objection is so difficult. No one likes change. It means work and it takes a lot of time. The process of reviewing print vendors is not synonymous with a trip to Disneyland. A potential changing-of-the-guard conjures up uncomfortable emotions like conflict and disloyalty, and fear, anxiety and confrontation, not to mention betrayal of the aforementioned incumbent vendor-turned-friend.
The question of “Who’s the better printer?” Almost doesn’t matter and can take a backseat to the more non-sequitur measurements of value that such emotions can usher in. Suddenly, you’re going up against forces out of your control. The best that you can do is to prepare, strap yourself in for what could be a long haul and get to the job of unseating the competition. Before you begin, it is vital to do your homework.
Preparation: Step one is to examine the customer, starting with one very important — if obvious — question: Are they even a good prospect? That is, is this the right kind of company for you? Finding the answer means examining their size, location and several other matters right down to the personality match of your potential key contacts.
Find someone to “argue” with, or grab a pen and a pad of paper and make a list of the pros and cons. If they can’t pass this litmus test, nothing else matters and it’s game over. Check, please! Move on.
If they do get the green light and make it past the first hurdle, a careful examination of the company to learn more about what they do and everything possible about their business challenges will help you to prepare your arguments and the reasons why they might want to look your way. Be ready to answer the customer’s key questions, such as:
- “What makes you different?”
- “What problem do you believe we have that you are going to solve?”
- “Why do people do business with you?”
This requires research. Look at their website. Examine their social media presence. Check out past and present employees on LinkedIn. Read up on anything their upper management has written.
Your best approach to winning the competitor’s business comes not through lowering your price, but rather through your ideas and resources. The selling motto, “Solve the problem, earn the order,” instructs you to look past the specifications and learn the story behind the printed piece in an effort to either lower the usage cost of the documents or increase their value. A full and complete understanding of the company is required if you are to be taken seriously as an alternative.
Next, study the competition. Sooner or later, you are going to be made to stand back-to-back with their existing printer to see who’s taller. Given that you probably both have grey equipment that uses electricity and both can make ink and toner magically stick to a substrate, you’ll need a few bullet points to cover when trying to measure up against their current vendor. For you to be truly unique, you will need to differentiate your differentiator.
In other words, don’t list “Our great customer service” among your assets. Everyone has that, everyone says that and it is impossible to validate until they become a client. Give examples of your problem-solving skills and resourcefulness. Be prepared to whip out a few testimonials. And get ready to clearly define where you fit. What is your brand? What about you makes it worth the aforementioned hassle to switch?
When the navel gazing is done, you’re ready to proceed …
The Way in: In a perfect world, your research has uncovered an issue that you are uniquely qualified to resolve. While this might happen, it’s not likely. Still, if you can’t find two or three strong and convincing reasons why the client should look your way, don’t bother pitching a tent in their front yard. No one needs another “me too” sales pitch.
Armed with your verbal ammunition, having studied both the customer and the competition, it’s time to create and engage a prospecting process that consists of multi-steps over multiple weeks and months. Success stories will definitely help. Testimonials, too. A big part of taking the risk out of making a change is showing the customer all the good you’ve done for other clients.
Where you begin your crusade is also important. In the absence of a formal and dictated contact point (print buyer, for example), you must examine their org chart in order to determine the best place of entry. Remember: You cannot aim too high. If you start low and get pushed up to a higher level, you will be designated to the bottom of that person’s priority list.
But if you start with upper management and find that you have overshot the mark, even if you are pushed downward, you will find yourself at the top of someone’s priority list because the request came from their boss.
The final question is personal: How long should you pursue? The answer to that depends on the answer to another question: How bad do you want them as a client?
The recipe for unseating the incumbent vendor has three ingredients: message, method and patience. Mix those three things together, drop them into the slow cooker and a feast will come. It’s just a matter of time ... so long as you use the finest ingredients possible.