In past blog posts, we’ve provided the Successful Sales Formula tool to determine the strength of a seller’s position for any given sales opportunity. This tool is a very useful way to see how well a seller is collaborating with buyers in a particular opportunity. And, it provides insight into what tactics a seller needs to accomplish in order to win.
The Successful Sales Formula can help sellers to select effective tactics in pursuit of an opportunity. But, sellers often forget that their tactics should be chosen in support of a specific competitive strategy. Without a strategic view of an opportunity, sellers can lose perspective and over-invest time and resources in the wrong deals.
Choosing to qualify out of a sales opportunity is one of the most difficult decisions that a seller can make, especially if they are behind on achieving their sales goal or if their pipeline is lean. Sales leaders must help sellers to objectively review opportunities, and coach them towards the best decisions about where and how to pursue business. In addition to the Successful Sales Formula, applying our Competitive Strategy Selector tool can help sellers to maintain a strategic perspective on each opportunity. This perspective enables sellers to know, with complete confidence, how best to engage their time and resources, and more importantly, when they should walk away.
What is a Competitive Strategy?
Many people tell us that they want to “sell strategically” but they often cannot describe what that means, exactly. A strategy is a framework for objectively determining how to apply resources in order to achieve the desired result. In this case, optimizing the use of sales resources to pursue and win competitive opportunities.
If a seller does not have a clear competitive strategy, then they do not really know how to win. They can only guess how much they should invest. Or, if it even makes sense to pursue the opportunity in the first place.
As Keith Eades described in his book, The New Solution Selling, there are five competitive strategies:
- Preemptive – be there first, create a latent opportunity
- Head-to-Head – compete directly against another competitive alternative
- End Around – change the buyer’s weighting of decision criteria to emphasize your unique differentiators
- Divide and Conquer – pursue a fragment of the business where you can provide a high-value solution
- Stall – encourage the buyer to delay a decision and wait for a future higher-value solution
Using Competitive Strategy
In our latest book, The Collaborative Sale, Keith and I explained how using a preemptive strategy to engage with buyers first results in winning business over five times more often than when engaging with buyers later in their decision process. By far, the preemptive strategy is the most effective.
But, most sellers are not able to engage first with every potential buyer, and as a result, they must compete with other vendors, and with other alternative choices (such as an in-house developed solution, or choosing to remain with the status quo and do nothing at all). As a result, sellers must select from the remaining competitive strategies to determine the optimal approach, and how many resources they should invest, in order to win.
Head to Stall
The Competitive Strategy Selector steps through these choices, starting with Head-to-Head – the default strategy for the majority of sellers but only effective if the seller has a clear advantage – through Stall, the last strategy for denying a competitor a win.
The result of using the Competitive Strategy may be that no strategy can be applied successfully to a particular opportunity, and therefore, the best decision is to disengage and qualify out. That decision to walk away is the last choice, but it is the wisest decision if there is no clear way to win, or even to deny a win to a competitor. To pursue a sales opportunity without a clear competitive strategy is simply a waste of time and resources.
We urge sales leaders to use the Competitive Strategy Selector when reviewing opportunities with their sellers. It will enable sellers to make better decisions about the application of sales resources. Most importantly, it will encourage them to make good decisions about using their most valuable resource – their time – on deals where they have the best chance to win.