The way I see it, there are three levels of competitive information a rep needs to know. The first is about their competitor's company-their size, locations, financial situation, reputation, etc. That's all available on their website. The second level is about the competition's products and services. Strengths are found on their website as well. The weaknesses are harder to come by, but with a network of customers, business partners, and other salesreps, as well as the willingness do a bit of ongoing research on the Internet, one can stay up with the challenges their competitors are having with their offerings.
For me, the real value is in understanding that third level-how the competitor's sales people sell. Over the years, I've found that only a small percentage of salesreps think about this, even though the impact of the competitor's selling capabilities directly and significantly impact those reps' income, careers, and self-worth.
Can you imagine a professional athlete going into a game/match/bout/race without having completely studied, under the direction of coaches and consultants with video footage, every move, nuance, strength and weakness of the opponent? What about a politician running for office? Hard to imagine, right?
I know that typically Marketing, Sales Enablement, and other corporate functions that are chartered to support the sales effort don't provide much leadership or intelligence regarding this third, and most important, level of competitive information. Sales people have to have their consciousness raised about the value of this intelligence and gleaning this information must become part of what they do every day.
Take a look at this list. Ideally, we'd like to know this information about the salesrep who is competing against us in our most important opportunity:
- Into what industries do they sell? Deep knowledge of the industry you are selling into can be a competitive advantage.
- Who are their largest, happiest and most unhappy customers? Reps often overuse their largest and happiest customers as references. They'll hide their unhappy ones.
- What is their typical sales process? When do they do what? Suggest a demo? A conference room pilot? A survey/needs analysis? When do they submit a proposal? When do they go for the close?
- How high in accounts do they typically call? Some reps go right for the top with a strong, financially-driven value proposition. Others are afraid or incapable of calling high in customer organizations.
- What value do they provide during the selling cycle? Are they a knowledgeable, trusted resource for the customer?
- How are they measured and compensated? In many cases, a salesrep on 50% fixed and 50% variable compensation is more aggressive than one on a more substantial base and a bonus. If you've competed against someone on 100% commission, you'll know what I mean.
- What is their win/loss ratio against your salesrep? Although I've never measured it, there is momentum that's generated when a rep wins one or two against another rep. They gain confidence. The loser has an uphill battle which grows for each deal they lose.
- What types of sales strategies do they typically use? Do they attack head on? Or are they more strategic, working on changing the customer buying criteria to what they uniquely deliver?
- When they win, why? When they lose, why? Do they have the skills, traits, behaviors, knowledge, resources and whatever else it takes to win business in your environment?
- What is their view toward your company? What do they say about you? Do they negative sell? Where must you set traps or immunize against their assertions?
- What do they do when things are going well/badly? Do they get complacent? Glib? Do they panic, bring in management, and drop their price?
The questions for sales leaders are these:
- Do you think this information is valuable for your salesreps to have? (If not, we need to have a conversation.)
- If so, how will you facilitate learning how to gather such information on an ongoing basis?
- When your reps have this information, what will they have to learn to do to outsell the competition in each and every opportunity?
- Which sales training providers do you believe provide content and learning in this area?