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At my company, prospects contact me to set up an initial sales meeting. If they like what they hear (and they usually do), our team moves forward and provides a cost proposal. They almost always tell us we’re a top-contender. After they review the cost proposal, they usually tell us that we’re still a top-contender, but they have to review other options as a formality.
This is where it all goes south. After a few follow ups, they go completely cold. Then, we find out maybe 6-8 months down the line that they went with a competitor. We’re always stunned and confused by this revelation, as it all seemed so promising…
Do you have any idea where we’re going wrong, and also what we can do to keep this from happening to us again and again?
Sales Leader at B2B firm, Des Moines, IA
At the risk of sounding like a teenage heartthrob breaking up with the girl-next-door, there’s a chance that it’s not you, it’s them. Or, maybe it is you?
To find out, dress up like a prospect and pretend you’re scoping for vendors, schedule an onsite visit, and see first-hand what they’re doing to steal all your clients.
But, if you find that you can’t get budget approved for wigs and clever disguises (some CFOs are no fun), you could try some good old-fashioned competitive analysis, better positioning to your target market, or a more thorough follow-up strategy.
Some marketing experts are under the misguided assumption that it’s unimportant to know about your competition, and that your superior products or services will speak for themselves. I’m here to tell you that this type of thinking is flawed. Your product may truly be one-of-a-kind, but how are your customers supposed to know that?
A better marketing strategy is one that markets your brand as a partner, and not simply a vendor. Of course, this will include product marketing; but promoting your company and brand strengths over what your competition offers is essential.
Just like Steve Jobs learned from Bill Gates, and Toyota learns from Honda – you can study your competition to better inform your sales and marketing strategies.
So, what is it that sets you apart from the competition?
You need to find out exactly what makes you different – the thing that will make prospects choose you over your competitors. The only way to know for sure is to find out where your competitors fall short.
You’re marketing a great new B2B solution, but so are 500 other companies. You can’t afford to look like them, sell like them, or be confused with them. Because you’re not them.
But how, exactly, are you better? Why should people buy from you?
Competitive analysis will give you the insights you need to effectively differentiate yourself. By shifting focus from your features and benefits to your prospects’ needs and challenges, and finding out where your competitors are missing the mark, you’ll discover exactly what makes you the better choice.
Choose your top competitors, and follow Hubspot CEO John Farkas’ advice and “research the attributes these companies are bringing to the market.”
- What are their unique value propositions and selling features?
- What is the overall tone and voice in their sales copy? Blog posts? Landing pages?
- Understand their company culture, values, mission, and people.
- Get a feel for their branding, visual identity, and imagery. How do they display themselves in the marketplace?
Your competitive analysis will reveal trends, behavior, strengths, and weaknesses about your competition (as well as yourself). You’ll find out precisely where your company stands relative to your competition. Leverage this information to plan future campaign strategy, goals, and KPIs.
It’s possible that you are selling “what you have” instead of what the customer really wants and needs.
It’s not uncommon for the folks at an initial meeting to fall in love with what you tell them you can do, only to have the decision-maker force them to define the ultimate objective and then ask which proposal meets that objective at the lowest cost. All your nice-to-have extras that got everyone so excited suddenly become irrelevant.
You said that in your business, prospects contact you for a sales meeting, and you schedule it. What types of questions are you asking to ensure they are a proper fit for your solution? What types of qualifiers are you using before the initial sales meeting, to make sure you uncover their needs and pains and speak directly to their problems?
In short, don’t focus so much on selling and promoting yourself, and try to focus more on your buyers’ needs and challenges.
More thorough follow-up strategy
To be honest, the biggest red-flag in your question is that it takes you 6-8 months to follow up and find out they went with a competitor instead. Why on Earth were you waiting so long? You need to make sure to maintain communication with your prospects, especially so late in the game. There is no reason you should be learning you lost a deal 6-8 months down the road.
Lead nurturing and follow up are key, as the best communicator usually wins the deal.
Be consultative with your prospects throughout the entire sales process. If they do decide to go to a competitor, they should feel comfortable enough with you to let you know, because they know you are truly concerned with their needs.
If a competitor’s solution is better suited to their needs, consider giving them the sale. There is always next time, and your integrity in this situation can lead to referrals to future customers who are a better fit for your solution.
Defeated, great job reaching out and asking for help.
That is, of course, the first step. It’s clear you have the drive and determination to succeed; and with the right sales and marketing strategy in place, you’ll be closing deals in no time.
You’ll get ’em next time,
Senior Account Executive, Televerde