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3 Tips for Selling Against the Status Quo

By Susan Hall

Earning the business of a new client is always challenging. Changing vendors, suppliers or service providers is often time consuming and expensive for the client so how do you increase your odds of winning their business? In this video, Susan Hall and Bo Smith share 3 tips to help you when selling against an established competitor.

Susan Hall: 00:01 One of the challenges and frustrations that I think most salespeople have is, "How do I sell against the incumbent? My competitor has been in a company for years, how do I get my foot in the door?" Today we'd like to share several very specific tips for doing just that. And Bo, I know you've got some personal experience. From your experience, what's one tip that you have?

Bo Smith: 00:35 Don't knock the competition, because I did it, and in this case I was the incumbent. I was a newspaper publisher. We had a competitor that was after a chain store's business. I thought that he was being dishonest. I wrote a letter to the chain store. I thought I was being diplomatic, but clearly they took it that I was being negative and dissing the competition and lost the business. Don't be like Bo.

Susan Hall: 01:02 Oh yeah. That is a painful lesson that I'm sure you never forgot. That's probably pretty common. I think many newer salespeople think that they need to understand their competitors so that they can knock them in front of the customer. That is not how you should use your competitive knowledge. Instead, use your knowledge to ask really good thought provoking questions of your customer to see what their priorities are and, in fact, if the competitor's weaknesses are even important to them.

For example, I found that Best/Least questions can be very powerful. Asking the questions, "What do you like best about working with ABC company?" "What do you want to make sure you continue doing in terms of how you're working on this particular project with them?" And fully exhaust that. Tell me more about that. Get a really clear picture of what they like and only then move to the other side, which is the least questions, "Is there anything that you don't like?" "Is there something that you would change if you only could?" By asking those questions, you're going to have a really much more comprehensive picture of what's important to the customer. What else?

Bo Smith: 02:23 In the sales field you're always trying to learn about your competitor. The story that I have is there was a business I was wanting to earn. The firm that they were using, the publication was not always getting out on time, and this business that I was trying to help was publicizing events. So asking the question, "What impact does that have on you?" Just kind of letting them talk but not being negative. They bring it up and then you listen.

Susan Hall: 03:00 Asking good open ended questions. Another tip is don't expect to unseat the competition in one call or two calls. It takes years to build a relationship and by building trust and bringing value through the kinds of questions that you're asking, maybe sending articles where it's appropriate, whatever is appropriate to build the relationship and show them with clear intent that you want to help. That is what is going to build that relationship over time.

Bo Smith: 03:33 Definitely, and remember the incumbent can make a mistake. It happened to me.

Susan Hall: 03:38 Right, and you'll be there waiting. If and certainly one that happens. I also think it's important not to rush the client. To remember that while you may have a sales goal, you're on their time table, they're not on yours.

Bo Smith: 03:55 There's this idea going through your head, "I need to make the sale now. I need to make the sale now." That's not in the buyer's best interest. It's what's best for them. Sometimes at that moment you don't have the best solution for them and they appreciate the fact that you're honest and you tell them, "Today, perhaps we're not the best fit for you, but let's keep in touch because in the future I'll continue to provide information for you and hopefully perhaps I can help you in the future."

Susan Hall: 04:21 Absolutely, and always have that clear next step that you've agreed to. To summarize, Bo, we've talked about number one, never disparage your competitor. In fact, use your competitive knowledge to create and think of good questions that you can ask your client to get a good picture of what they want. A good tip for that is asking Best/Least questions, which help you identify those gaps. And then be patient with yourself. Build the relationship over time. Always have a clear next step in terms of your communication with your client. And to your point, if it's not the right thing for the client, be prepared to step away graciously. I think by doing those things over time, you'll find yourself in a position where you're credible and you're perceived as competent and certainly waiting in the wings when the timing is right.

Bo Smith: 05:13 Definitely.

Published: August 26, 2020

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Susan Hall

Vice President - Business Development & Performance Improvement

Susan brings over 20 years of experience working with global markets and organizations, helping them navigate through tough economic challenges while maintaining their margins. Since joining SEG in 1995, she has had the privilege of working with organizations that truly value the development of their employees and recognize the impact their people have on their bottom line results. Susan graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a double major in business management and speech communication. She has also completed course work toward her master's degree at Johns Hopkins University.

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