Game, Set and Match – Selling Against the Competitors!

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Game, Set & Match-Selling Against the Competition

Were you glued to the telly this weekend by chance? A perfect summer afternoon watching (with strawberries & cream?) racket wielding sports giants battling it out to win the most coveted prize in tennis, Wimbledon. I must admit I am not a fan of the old bat ’n’ ball but the element of competition is not lost on me. Why? Well selling is all about being competitive, winning the business and competing against others in the same market, all looking for a piece of the same pie!

How do you compete?
Quite simply by having something that someone wants, something that works, something better than someone else’s and of course at a price that works! This element of uniqueness is known as a USP (unique selling point) and can create competitive advantage, it is this that can make a decision to buy from you easier in the clients minds.

Do products sell themselves?
Quite simply; no. Some people are so drenched in their own arrogance they firmly believe their products are untouchable, that they will just walk off of the shelves. For example, working in media sales there were some magazines that had the word ‘Official’ or ‘Market leader’ attached, giving them fantastic kudos. In the early days the publishers of these titles predicted high copy sales and attached huge advertising sales budgets to them. The sales people involved often thought this was enough to sell advertising and publishers thought that the then skyrocketing circulation would also mean it was a license to print money. To compete when selling advertising in these magazines, the promise of the all important high levels of ‘response’ was offered. Of course being the market leader or official title a client is bound to get the most response right? Wrong. As other titles came into the markets, often mimics of these greater titles, the message became diluted, so did the response levels, and the sales became harder to achieve. Having kudos was not enough, there needed to be something more, something that demonstrated value. When it comes to response in magazines, newspapers and even websites, the cliche ‘you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink’ is never truer. You can plunge the horses head into the water if you want, but if it won’t drink, not unless it wants to. Response was a false prophet, and not a way to sell against the competitors, sales people soon realised the power lay with the reader, their habits and their relationship with advertisers.

As a point of difference I worked many years ago for a natural cosmetic company who had some real crackers. Talk abut amazing, these products included animal soaps, fruit flavoured shower gels and a fragrance that becomes a cult classic. However as more and more stores opened up selling this wonderful stuff, other companies started to create similar products, however what kept this brand head and shoulders above the rest was the message behind the products. It was an ethical message and it created a following that not only liked the product, they trusted and believed in it. This little bit extra was embodied by the staff, they actively sold against the competitors, not in a way that was not derogatory to the competitors, but in away that led the customer to making the right choice, and so competitive advantage was maintained, and for quite some time. Now although the brand today is not as strong, it is still a big player and has enjoyed a longer moment in the sun than many other brands of its time. So products don’t sell themselves, they need something extra.

Understanding motivation to buy can help nail the competition
According to Heinz Goldman there are five primary motivators that drive the purchasing decision.
Ego & Prestige – the need to stand out and be different with a premium and expensive edge
Friendship & Contact – the need to belong to a group, social proof
Security – the need for safety and reduced elements of change
Ease & Convenience – the need for things to be made achievable in a simple way
Money, Profit & Wealth – quite simply, the need to make money!

If you are up against the competition, it is often easy to fall back on selling purely on the price. Who ever is the cheapest wins. That might work in a market stall but in some environments this is not appropriate. Think about the phone market, why do we keep paying hand over fist for the best, most up to date technology? It is not because it is cheap is it, we know it isn’t. We do it for other reasons, such as the way it makes us feel. We like to have the best, been seen with the best. Apparently 90% of us would rather leave the house without our keys than without our phones!

In another market why do we pay over £100 for a moisturiser from one company when we can pop into any chemist and get something similar, much cheaper, often made by the same company? I will tell you why. Because we’re worth it! Companies know this too and capitalise on it with claims on their products we don’t question, and more often we can’t question. In the anti-ageing market, we spend a small fortune on a lovely velvet cream, promising to make us keep our looks, served up in posh jar, in posh box, from a posh cabinet, from an assistant who quite possibly, as Victoria Wood once said, ‘has to tip her head back to get her eyes open due to the sheer volume of makeup.’ We can’t question the claims made by these products, we do not have a crystal ball to see what we will look like based on these claims, we accept them, blindly. Living in ‘hope’. Well, ‘hope’ costs. The cosmetic industry lines up all the competition together in the beauty halls, sometimes just six feet away from each other, all competing for ‘people wanting the dream of ‘hope’. Of course these are premium products, with premium prices, so we might need enticing with a bag of little goodies, free with purchase! (There must be someone out there who has a room full of these little bags, I mean how many bags can one person need? Watch those hoarding shows, one will turn up!) If we go behind the glitz and look at the habits of the customers, we can again see a pattern. Some people are very loyal (security buyer), some like to shop around for the best deal (money, profit), some like to have the latest thing (ego) and some buy because every one else has it, or it has been on TV to tell is it works, remember that product? (friendship and contact) and others just want something that does what it appears to say on the tin (ease and convenience). As each brand offers something different, something unique it helps it to compete. There is another reason too, something more valuable, something that is often underestimated.

People buy people
How many times have you bought something purely because the sales person was nice. Quite a lot I bet. We like people who are pleasant, friendly, knowledgable and welcoming. Often we see grumpy or miserable sales people in stores. This does not bode well. We can get people who are friendly on the phone, until we raise an objection, then they get defensive. Again not good. These people can push us into the arms of the competitor. So what makes us buy?
If we get great service, we are likely to buy. If we trust the sales person we will buy. If we believe in the sales person we will buy. If we feel connected to the sales person in terms of rapport and understanding we will buy. If the sales person makes great recommendations, we buy. If the sales persons can demonstrate true value in terms of our needs and wants, we will buy. If the sales person remembers us when we are passing, we will return and we will buy. If the sales person has a great level of advocacy for their products and from their other customers we will buy. If we want to return something and it is made easy with no fuss or no quibble we will buy. If the sales person is consistent, we will be consistent and will continue to buy. If the sales person doesn’t slag off competitors and openly welcomes them, we will buy.
But who does all of this? Does such a sales person exist? Yes, they do, I will tell you who later. But for now, in terms of beating the competition it can come down to making sure that all of the above criteria are met by the people who are employed to sell the products we want and need in our lives.

A company may well have wonderful products, amazing products, but if the sales people are poor at their job then no sale. Remember that classic scene from Pretty Woman. How many sales people have made the same ‘BIG MISTAKE’ of looking down their nose at clients. As a very famous US politician once said in an equally famous jewellery store in New York after she received poor service. “You ladies are on that side of the counter because you need the minimum wage, I am on this side of the counter, because I can afford the shit you sell.”

Give your sales people the best training you can afford. Not only in product knowledge but also in actual sales training, good questioning skills, good negotiation skills, excellent service skills, effective closing skills. It will pay dividends. It will pay off. Tell them to be the best, the very best.

An extra two inches
Try this with your team, to demonstrate how you want them to sell. Ask them to push their right hand as far into the air as they can. Done that? Now tell them to push it two inches further. Oh watch them fly. Then ask them why they did not do that in the first place? Oh they will titter. Funny exercise, but if they don’t offer the extra two inches, then someone else will, and it can make a huge difference in competitive terms. Work out what the extra bit is. After all the difference between ordinary and extra-ordinary is just that little bit ‘extra’.

So back to that sales person who does all those things I mentioned earlier. That would count as the extra two inches wouldn’t it. I said that that sales person exists, and now I am going to tell you who it is. It is the person who you blame you poor sales on, declining sales. Its name is Amazon and actually when you go through the list, it does everything one of your sales people should be doing and doesn’t. It competes with everyone and doesn’t discriminate either, and it is here to stay, unless it gets so arrogant that it starts to believe that it’s products sell themselves, then we will have to see. For now it acts as an example as to what businesses should be striving for in terms of competing and winning business.

Some practical help in selling against competitors.

  • Always ask who else they have been talking to, or what similar products they have been considering
  • Use great questioning skills and listening skills to build rapport and establish facts from the clients point of view
  • Always listen with a view to learning, not just coming up with a quick answer. Be considered.
  • Ask why these products or services are important to them right now
  • Try to establish what is important to the client in terms of what this product will do for them not only in the short term but long term to
  • Try to establish what the client considers to be your or your products strengths and weaknesses, this really helps establish their point of view
  • Consider how you or your product can deliver above and beyond what is expected, and show tangible evidence that will help to reinforce added value

So whatever you are selling, be it cars, insurance, advertising, cosmetics, personal training, legal services, hospitality, websites anything Put in lots of extra effort, understand your clients in terms of motivation and what is of value to them. Get yourself lots of training, get into the mindset of the very best, and be the very best, game, set and match.

This blog is part of the Sales Academy. If you would like relevant, effective sales training that can really make a difference to your relationships with clients, build trust and deliver revenue then email me, Simon Hares at and I will come back to you. Thanks for reading.



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