I was involved in a discussion with a team on a very large opportunity. It seemed an inordinate part of the discussion focused on the competition.
People went back and forth on their strengths relative to the competitors, the relationships the competitors had with the customer, strategies to deal with the competition. And yes, we even got to the discussion, “How much discount to overcome where they thought the competitor would price their solution?”
But the team failed to consider the real competition and developed no strategies to address these. The biggest competitor we have always faced is doing nothing. The majority of outcomes in customer buying journeys is “no decision made.” But we seldom develop competitive strategies to deal with this possibility.
There could be any number of reasons customers reach that “decision.” They could get lost in their buying process, they could struggle with aligning differing agendas and priorities in the buying group, they could have no compelling reason to make a change, settling for the status quo.
Instead of focusing on your competition, help the customer navigate the buying process
There are lots of strategies we could develop to address this “competitive threat.” Ironically, in doing this, we create greater value and position ourselves more favorably than a traditional competitor who is going through their own strategy sessions about how to beat us.
We could almost ignore traditional competition, focusing entirely on helping the customer buy, helping them navigate the buying process, helping them understand the consequences of doing nothing. We would far improve our probability of winning by adopting this as a competitive strategy.
Allocation of funds
There’s another hidden competitor that we overlook, and that many of our customers overlook. It’s the allocation of funds. Often, the funds our customers are seeking for their projects are allocated to something that’s completely different. Something that doesn’t compete directly with our offerings, something that may be in an entirely different part of the business.
But these projects compete with us and the projects we may be working on with our customers. Executives often, re-prioritize the allocation of funds to completely different areas, based on shifting priorities.
A dramatic example occurred last week. A client had “won” the decision for a major project with their customer, only to learn later, that the funds for the project had been diverted to plastic shields and office reconfiguration to create safe work environments for their people. That was the highest priority for the company and funds for other very important projects were diverted and those projects cancelled.
How do we help our customers get what they want, protecting their funding and the priority of their projects? (The example above may be a case that we can’t and shouldn’t overcome.). First, we have to educate the customer that they have to justify and sell their projects internally. Where we can, we have to help them with this process. Second, we have to make sure the solution the customer seeks to implement contributes to the top priorities of executive management. If we can’t help the customer “connect the dots,” between what they want to do and the priorities of the corporation, there is a high probability, the funds will be diverted to those projects that better support the company priorities.
Of course, we can’t ignore our traditional competitors, but I think we spend way too much time focusing on them and not on the real competitive threats.
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.