One of your main marketing goals as a specialized consultant is to make the competition as irrelevant as possible. Many of your dream clients, however, are being approached by other companies with a promise to improve their business. How do you win a competitive deal?
Before answering the question, it's worth reinforcing that to win new businesses you need to prioritize proactive selling. You want to identify sources of value and secure new engagement before they get to competitive situations. This is how, as Blair Enns puts it, you win without pitching.
Sometimes this is not possible, and you know the prospect is talking to other professionals or consulting firms in your space. When that happens, you need to derail any formal process (RFPs) and get the prospect to agree to a one-on-one conversation with you.
Now, if that's the case, this opportunity is a competitive deal. Here are some assertions that you should understand and adopt (inspired by Anthony Iannarino):
- You win a competitive deal when you create a preference to hire you instead of any of your competitors.
- The way you create that preference is by differentiating yourself and how you deliver your results from your competitors.
- You create meaningful differentiation when you create more value than your competitors. This is done by providing the prospect an experience and a conversation that they find valuable to them as they consider change.
If you accept these assertions as true, you recognize that the main cause of you losing competitive deals is the poor value delivered during your conversations.
You Win A Competitive Deal By Creating Preference
This is obvious but worth repeating. Your prospects will offer the contract to a preferred firm. Someone almost always has the "inside track" before the sales conversations officially start. If it's not your firm, it's one of your competitors and the odds are against you.
You Create Preference Through Differentiation
Your prospects will look at you and your competitors differently. A significant part of your differentiation comes from your positioning strategy, which should be reflected in all of your marketing initiatives.
Indeed, if you have a strong positioning strategy (specialization) you will be seen as unique and most of your sales opportunities will not include any competition.
The fact that your prospect is inviting competition to the buying process is a sign that your positioning is not strong enough to differentiate yourself from others in your space. This means you will need to increase differentiation during your conversations to create preference.
In Competitive Deals, You Create Differentiation By Providing A Valuable Experience And Conversation
Promising a higher ROI is not the only way to create more value than your competitors. Yes, it matters to buyers. But during the first conversations and the initial stages of the sales process, there's one thing that's far more important: risk.
The world is complex, unpredictable, ambiguous. The speed at which markets and technologies change, the lack of predictability in their business, and the difficulty of telling cause and effect apart are all seen as risks for your client. By deciding to make a change to the business, buyers might even be risking their own careers.
Companies will hire you to insure them against these risks. The price (and by consequence the ROI) of the engagement is a reflection of it. That's why you can win engagements by charging a higher price than the competition - all you need to do is to prove to the prospect you are the less risky alternative for the job.
If a prospect believes you have a 100% success rate at solving a problem worth $100,000, they would gladly pay you $100,000 to do the job.
With that said, your goal during those first sales conversations should be to provide value to the prospect by helping them understand:
- The risks they face by doing nothing. You do that by having consultative conversations (sharing what's happening now and how it affects them and their goals) and helping the client understand what's their RONI - return on not investing.
- The risks they face by hiring a non-expert for the job. Don't criticize your competitors. Prospects will take the risk of underinvesting seriously once you help them clarify how big the problem they are trying to solve is.
- The unique risks you mitigate if you are hired for the job. If needed, show proof of your credibility, reliability, and client orientation. Share what sets you apart from others, and how it resulted in better results for clients in the past.
Do that, and prospects will give you a solid head start for the rest of the sales process.