Whether it’s through a cold call or an initial meeting, a salesperson hearing that a prospective customer already works with their competition can mean the end of the conversation. Chalk that one up as a non-starter. Right? Wrong!

If in your initial pursuit of a prospect you hear they already work with your competition, get excited. I’m sure this sounds counterintuitive. “What do you mean ‘get excited’? There’s nothing I can do for this customer. They already have someone they work with. There’s nothing more for me here.” But stay with me for a moment.

A potential customer that is already using your competition to service the exact same need you are trying to sell to them proves to you a few things:

  1. They have the demand for your service.
  2. They see the value in addressing this problem.
  3. They are willing to work with someone outside their company to eliminate this pain point.

This already puts you more than halfway towards closing them. Their past action has already eliminated some of the biggest sales challenges you face when dealing with new customers – like convincing them of the need for what you’re selling and getting them to abandon the status quo and take action. All you have to do now is demonstrate that you are a better fit for solving this problem than their current provider.

Understanding your competition

The first step to demonstrating that you are a better fit for their business is understanding what you’re up against. By initially responding to the information that the customer is already using a competitor with some probing questions, you can get an idea of the value your competition adds from the customer’s point of view. Do some polite digging here as this will not only help you understand your competitor’s value proposition but also how you are different than them. Here are some sample questions to use at this stage:

“I’m glad to hear that you see the value in our service. Are you happy with your current representative?”

This is a way to start a conversation and begin to build a relationship of trust without acting like a salesperson. You are demonstrating genuine interest in the wellbeing of the customer.

“What about their services do you like?”

This question will give you insight not only in what the competition is doing right, but also what the prospect values.

“Is there anything you think they can do better?”

Learning where the competition has dropped the ball will show you your opening and give you the material you need to demonstrate your USP (Unique Selling Point / Unique Selling Proposition).

“How do they ensure you are getting a competitive price?”

“What do they do to continually educate you in bettering your business now that you are their customer?”

Questions like these will give you further insight, but can also start to subtly cast doubt in the prospect’s mind that maybe they aren’t receiving as complete a service as you can offer (or that they never even knew they weren’t getting service-wise, but now they absolutely are interested in receiving).

Learning more about the customer

Now that you have a good grasp on the competition, switch gears and begin focusing on the prospect. A customer’s expectations and needs can change over time… Maybe even since they started their relationship with your competition. Use this opportunity to ask if there are any areas of need that are new since becoming familiar with your service, or new requirements that possibly fall within your wheelhouse.

Differentiate without disparaging

You have now gathered the information you need to move forward to presenting yourself as a viable candidate your potential customer should consider. This is the time for you to sell yourself in the areas that you have identified as soft spots in your competition’s armor. Sales is a highly competitive industry, but don’t take this opportunity to talk negatively about your competition. Doing so comes with a very high risk and is most assuredly not worth it. Instead, mention a few points where you do things differently (hopefully the contrast will clearly highlight your superiority).

Next, ask if they’d be willing to allow for a second set of eyes to take a look at their situation. Once again, you are slowly working your way into their good graces by offering to help. This deepens your relationship as well as demonstrates the way you work with clients. They can imagine the care and attention you would give them if they were your client.

Get approval and make a commitment

Once you get the opportunity to look into their business, set a specific date and time when you can come back to present what you have found. This will move you one step further on the sales cycle and allow you to prepare further before giving your pitch to the customer. In this pitch, focus on what you do differently than the competition, construct your product and service proposal, and lastly, provide social proof (referrals from your current clients).

Next time you encounter a situation where a potential customer already works with your competition, don’t give up. Keep pressing and your preparation for this situation will help you acquire customers from a pool of prospects you never before thought you could touch.

What you should do now

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