Are you a Stage 5 Clinger?

 Is your competition causing you to act like the needy, jealous, insecure girlfriend?

I’m not the needy, jealous, insecure girlfriend! That’s never me, that’s ALMOSTnever me. I’m the cool, confident, self-assured, you do you, I don’t need to put a label on it, I’m secure in what we share, girlfriend. But last week I became a “stage 5 clinger” in one of my rep’s deals.

We were in the deal first, they called us actually, we’ve had some great conversations, we can meet all their needs, I think they really like us. But we aren’t exclusive; they are seeing other people too. And those dates, I mean meetings, have been going pretty well too. In fact they’ve gotten pretty far together, I think it might be getting serious with them too. I can feel them comparing the two of us, evaluating our flaws and strengths side by side.

We’re flexible and diverse, you can show us off, we have a great pedigree, your friends like us, we could be the one, like the one for life, to see you through good and bad, ups and downs, all the way to the big exit and beyond (IPO or acquisition, not Patrick Swayze in Ghost). Then there’s the other guy, they are easy going and promise you the world, they seem to have everything you are looking for today, and they are much cheaper.

I know I’m the better fit for you, everyone else thinks so too, I’ve invested so much more into the relationship and I see us going places together, you need me, I’m prepared to commit and support you, and I can list all the reasons why we belong together forever, and the other guy can’t make you happy! But is that how you want to make your choice? Because I give you a list of reasons why I’m better than someone else? That makes me seem insecure, and defensive, and dare I say “salesy.” You don’t want to buy that way and I don’t want to win that way.

So how do I win you? I can’t just sit by and let you “go with your heart.”

Stay cool-

I used to think if I ignored that my competition existed I would come across more confident and discredit them as a valid competitor because I didn’t acknowledge them in my market. That worked for a little while, but then I realized I was alienating many of my potential customers. By saying, “yeah I’ve heard of them, but they are usually only in our smaller deals and we replace them more often than we compete with them directly” I was playing right into their trap that we were too big a solution for a small business and that the other vendor was the appropriate fit for the company’s current needs. Now I find it’s best to acknowledge them as a fellow player in the space and drop a few un-editorialized facts about our differences. Just the facts, a few numbers that show our scale, so now if you want to compare us apples to apples and I am going to acknowledge them as a valid player in the space I need to make sure you understand the discrepancies in basic foundational stats, and you can infer the impact of those stats on your own.

Let your friends talk you up-

The best way to win someone over to your side is with an endorsement from someone they trust. One tactic we use is independent research. Anyone can buy a study, or make up a stat, or sponsor an association. That’s why we focus on reputable independent research establishments, in our space that’s Gartner andCODiE awards and rankings. These independent evaluations where we are rated higher than our competition (or the competition is not rated at all) by an impartial organization help us build our case without being overtly aggressive against the opponent. Even better than industry endorsements are customer endorsements, especially customers that have outgrown our competitor’s products and switched to us. We let our customers prove our points for us. They made the wrong choice, thought the other solution would work for them and it did for a while, but eventually hit a breaking point and we welcomed them back with open arms. Letting our customers tell that story for us is far better than us telling it because we don’t come across as defensive or like we are bashing the competition, we let our friends talk us up a little before we swoop in for the close.

Leave the door open for negotiation-

What I noticed with a lot of our smaller customers last year where we lost a deal to our competition, is that they really wanted to buy our product but were in some cases embarrassed that they couldn’t afford it and instead of presenting a counter-offer they just signed with the other vendor and then called us for the break-up call, both of us knowing they would be back in a couple years. Now in all of our deals we are extremely proactive in explaining the negotiation process to our clients so they understand where they have leverage right from the start. Often times we actually encourage our clients to evaluate some of our competitors so they can understand what the market price is and then we will even ask the customer to determine what premium they are willing to pay. Maybe we come in 50% higher but the customer only sees 30% perceived added value in a partnership with us over another vendor, that’s good feedback, let’s incorporate that into the negotiation as a point of discussion among other variables to see if we can work together to strike a deal that makes sense for us both.

Strive for confidence not certainty-

For many of the customers I work with, this will be one of their biggest investments to date. The decision to go with us or another vendor could be the reason they get promoted or fired. There’s a lot at stake and the pressure is high for the customer to make the right choice and all the mud-slinging doesn’t help. I don’t strive for any of my customers to be certain we are the right choice for them, because they will never be certain till they start using it for a while. But I can strive for them to be confident that we will meet their needs, and introduce doubt that the other vendor will not. If I have enough empirical and anecdotal evidence that I can handle their current and future needs, than I don’t need to do very much to poke holes in my opponent’s solution. All I need to do is establish confidence in my solution and introduce a few questions that plant the seeds of doubt in other solutions. I do this early and often, in each call we establish a few basic differentiators and facts to begin to incept doubt that our competitor might not be able to handle future scenarios. Then we continue to build confidence in our position and let the doubt fester. By doing it this way we never actually have to call out ugly, emotionally charged, editorialized competitive intel, we can keep it to the facts, keep it brief, and spend our time talking about our product and our proprietary advantages, not our competitor and their weaknesses.

I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t exactly follow my own advice last week and gave a few emotionally charged competitive presentations. I know we will recover, but it took us a few steps back and reminded me that even though we have had an extremely high win rate we can’t get complacent with the same strategies, and we can’t let one deal effect another. I was in a few dozen deals the past few weeks with the same few opponents and even though we won all of them I was letting pressure build from each deal and just waiting for us to lose one. The stress of knowing we won’t stay on this winning streak forever got to me and ironically caused me to jeopardize a deal I think we are also on the path to winning. I needed a reminder to follow my own advice I give my reps. What other techniques have you used to subtly win over your competition?


Kelli Lampkin

Kelli Lampkin is a writer, traveler, comedienne, and entrepreneur.

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