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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  May 21, 2014

How to Sell Against Bigger and Prominent New Players

Originally published by RainToday.com

I was at the recent TEDActive conference (the rowdy younger brother to the annual TED event) in Whistler, Canada, when I heard this bombshell: TED has launched a new initiative aimed at taking their “ideas worth spreading” mission to corporate America. In that moment, I saw many of my colleagues selling against this media darling. Bummer.

In the spirit of growth, many prominent organizations extend their brand in new and unrelated fields. They become the new BSO (bright shiny object) that prospects instantly fall in love with. That doesn’t mean the companies already in those spaces can’t compete. You don’t have to close up shop.

Instead, consider this three-step process for dealing with these new 800-pound gorillas.

Step 1: Step Back

Before talking to any new client or prospect, the first things to do is step back and learn the details. What exactly is the BSO offering? What is the price point? Whom are they targeting? What is the outcome from their work?

The biggest challenge in the beginning is you don’t know what you are competing against. Without that knowledge, you cannot effectively respond in sales conversations.

It’s tempting to skip this step; don’t. And don’t skim their website and call it a day. You need to go past the sale pitch and learn as much as possible. The more accurate the information, the more compelling your response will be.

The best sources of this information are people in your network. Ask your biggest advocates and clients what they’ve heard (and more important, what information they have received) about the BSO. You’ll be surprised by what folks will agree to send you.

Step 2: Strategize

Once you have current information, the next step is to plot your next move. To do that, you have to pinpoint what I call the intersections. These are the places where buyers believe you and the BSO collide. They’re the areas where the buyers believe they can’t work with both of you; they have to make a choice.

Using TED as an example, here are some intersections between them and the current players:

  • TED competes with larger consulting firms for large change-management initiatives
  • TED speakers compete with other professional speakers for corporate conferences
  • TED’s “story-telling” approach competes with other communication consultants

This is the time for brutal honesty. Here are some key questions that will uncover the intersections:

  • From the buyers’ perspectives, where do your target markets overlap?
  • Do your best buyers see only similarities, or do they perceive your work as different enough that it doesn’t compete?
  • In what areas can you avoid the collision?
  • Where will you have to compete head to head?

From those intersections, you will know how to respond. You will know what to change, what to drop or create, and where your best opportunities exist. You will know when to compete head to head and when to accede and focus on your best opportunities.

Step 3: Strike

Armed with current information and your best response strategy, you now want to integrate your sales conversations.

Your best first step: probe. If the BSO is unknown and not being considered, there’s no reason to bring them up. (No news is good news.)

If the buyer has heard of the BSO, play it cool and nip any consideration in the bud. My favorite response here is to shrug and say, “New player to an old game.” Then focus on what you bring to the table.

The biggest test is if the BSO is the front-runner. In these conversations, you compete head to head. This can be tricky if the buyers will see only the similarities between the two of you, putting you in the weaker position.

If the BSO is the front-runner, find out why. Then test the buyer’s resolve by planting seeds of doubt. My favorite approach is the “yes, but” statement. Say something like, “Oh, yeah. They are really good at XXX. But your challenge/goal/solution is completely different…”

You want to know if the buyer is willing to reconsider. If they are not, keep in touch but don’t spend a lot of energy following up. If there’s an opening, continue the comparison based on your strengths. Reframe the comparison in your favor by discussing the impact your strengths have vs. the BSO’s. Everyone has holes in their brand; make the most of your competitor’s.

Here are a couple of examples using TED: Your approach might be more customized than their approach. Or their communication coaches may be less experienced than you.

Room for Everyone

When a new and more prominent player enters your game, it’s tempting for your prospects to be seduced by these BSOs. But you don’t have to buy into the hype. As long as you are willing to step back, strategize, and then strike, you can effectively compete. Remember, there is room in the market for everyone.


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.