In the minds of many reps, competitor buyers are off-limits for prospecting. After all, why waste time with a buyer that’s already entrenched with someone offering a similar product?
But as it turns out, competitor buyers are some of the best prospects you can target. They’re more qualified, they’re budget-ready, and they’ve already got a buying process in place for your product.
That being said, these leads can be harder to win over, too. They’re more loyal, resistant to change, and they take a bit more convincing on why your product is superior.
So, how do you sell to competitor buyers successfully?
This guide dives into how to sell against a competitor to bring on their existing clients. Inside, we take a look at a proven four-step framework. And we also investigate why these leads can be so lucrative in the first place (and how they can skyrocket your commissions in no time).
Why Sell Into Competitor Accounts?
Before we get into how to sell against a competitor, let’s look at why you should consider selling to their buyers in the first place.
At first glance, the prospect of selling to your competition’s buyers can seem like a failed cause. Existing customers are loyal. They’re already familiar with your competitor’s products. And they’re resistant to change (the “don’t fix what ain’t broke” mindset).
That all adds up to harder sells, wasted time, and fruitless effort… right?
But as it turns out, there are plenty of benefits of selling to your competition’s buyers. And once you’ve developed a system for converting them that actually works, you can start to reap those benefits.
Potential Benefits (When You Do It Right)
So, why go after your competitor’s buyers at all? Below are a few of the biggest benefits of making the leap.
- They’ve Already Demonstrated Product Interest – One of the hardest parts of bringing new customers on is demonstrating how your solution addresses their pain points. It’s why retaining repeat customers is 5X more valuable compared to finding new buyers, according to Invesp. Existing customers already see the need. And so do your competitor’s buyers. As a result, you don’t have to spend days and weeks explaining your product’s value—they already understand it because they’re already working with a similar product.
- The Budget Is Settled – In addition to already demonstrating product interest, a competitor’s buyers have already allocated the space in their budget. When there’s already space in the budget, you don’t have to work as hard to justify spending extra. Instead, you can simply swap out your expenses with those of your competitors (if they’re comparable, of course).
- Their Buying Process Is in Place – Last but not least, your competitor’s buyers know how this all works. They’ve done it before. The approvals, the training, the onboarding, the ongoing support—they get it. And they’re far less likely to be turned off by how extensive the buying process may be. For you, that means an easier sale and less feet dragging along the way.
Why It Can Be So Difficult to Pull Off
The perks are clear—your competitor’s buyers are more qualified, more price-friendly, and more efficient than bringing on new clients. What’s not to love about that?
But there are also some downsides to going this route too. Namely, converting these buyers can be a tough sell. At least in some cases. Here’s why.
- Loyalty – If a buyer has stuck with a brand for years, you may have trouble overcoming loyalty. Loyalty is a powerful purchasing motivator. InMoment found 77% of consumers say they’ve held relationships with specific brands for 10 years or more. And 61% go out of their way to buy from them. That can make it especially difficult to bring loyal customers over to your side.
- Lack of Differentiation – Piggybacking on the last point, a buyer isn’t going to make a shift unless there’s an especially compelling reason to do so. How do you address needs better than the competitor? Are you faster? More feature-rich? Do you provide more value for less investment? If you can’t demonstrate why you’re better or even if you’re better, you’ll have little luck in closing a deal.
- Change Hesitancy – Finally, individuals are change-averse. But businesses and organizations are even more resistant to rocking the boat. Change is scary. And there’s risk involved in working with a new vendor. It’s up to you to show how partnering with your business addresses those risks and provides more potential benefit than the potential detriment of signing on.
The Competitive Takeover Framework
Now that we understand both the perks and difficulties of acquiring this type of buyer, let’s look at how to sell against competition.
How do you convince a loyal customer to come on board when they’re already loyal to another company? The trick is to address unfulfilled needs, establish some buy-in, overcome objections, and drive urgency.
The best way I’ve found to do just that is by following what I call The Competitive Takeover Framework.
This framework is composed of four simple steps:
- Find the Gap
- Get Agreement
- Eliminate Self Doubt
- Answer “Why Now?”
And when implemented effectively, it will persuade even the staunchest potential buyers to do business with you.
1. Find the Gap
The first and arguably most important step to master if you’re wondering how to sell against lower priced competition is finding and exploiting “the gap.”
To explain, the only reason a potential buyer would switch away from their current vendor to you is because they have an unmet need. Maybe that need is a specific feature. Maybe it’s more advanced technical support. The list of potential needs is limitless.
But in the end, those unmet needs typically translate into hassle for the buyer. And if you can reduce that hassle, you’ve just found the most powerful change motivator of all. That is the gap.
The gap occurs between the end of the competition’s sales cycle and the end of your sales cycle. You can think of these ends as the status quos after implementing each solution.
Take a look at the graph below for a better idea of what the gap looks like.
See how the gap is defined by where the buyer is now versus where they could be after implementing your solution?
The goal is to identify how your product can alleviate the buyer’s pain points in a way their current solution cannot. With the gap, you’re building a solid foundation that you can use to demonstrate how the buyer’s life stands to benefit from switching. And it’s the logical reasoning you need to convince them to make the change.
A Few Notes on the Gap
As you’re identifying and leveraging your buyer’s gap, there are a few things you need to remember.
- The bigger the gap is, the easier it’s going to be to convert the account. Essentially, a bigger gap means you have more value to offer. And if that gap is small, the risks of changing vendors to your company might outweigh the benefits.
- The process of navigating the value gap is slower but less painful than implementing the original solution.
- Once this process of change has happened, the next value gap is between the second sales cycle status quo and then the third. As you go further along (i.e., third to fourth, fourth to fifth), the value gap tends to shrink. Therefore, converting an account that has been converted many times over is tougher than converting an account that has only been sold into once.
Gap Building Questions
Now that you know what the gap is, let’s talk about how to identify it with your buyer.
There are two questions you should ask during this stage:
- What pain points are you experiencing with your current solution?
- Are those pain points actually important to you?
Let’s get more in-depth with each.
With the first question, you are getting your buyer to both acknowledge that there are unaddressed pain points and coaxing them to let you know what those unmet pain points are.
In the real world, that might look something like this:
- Seller – “I’m curious, when you tried to increase the number of sales that your team is making (remove pain) by using in-person sales training (benefits of a product), how did it go?”
- Buyer – “It worked well at first, but then quickly everybody went back to their old ways, and revenue stagnated again.”
After that question, we’re going to further qualify that this is a gap we can sell into by asking a downplay question.
The question might look like this:
“Perhaps everyone selling as they always have (pain point just uncovered) isn’t that important to you because you’re hitting all your targets already (reason it might not be important)?”
This question is invaluable at uncovering information. If the buyer fights back and tells us that this pain point really is an issue for them, then we know we’ve found the gap. If, on the other hand, the buyer agrees with you that the pain point isn’t that big of a deal, they’re probably not worried about it, and so it’s going to be difficult to close a sale with them.
Pro Tip: After identifying the buyer’s unmet pain points in the first question, don’t jump right in explaining why your solution is superior. Doing so undermines the decisions the buyer made in the past. And that can lead to reactive discussions where they’re feeling defensive—not a very sales-receptive position.
2. Get Agreement
Having highlighted the gap, it’s time for a simple—yet essential—step for getting buy-in from your prospect. And it all hinges on a very peculiar human quality.
See, once you get a single “yes” out of an individual, all the “yes” responses that follow are easier to earn. The pill gets a little less jagged and easier to swallow each time.
That’s why you must get the buyer to verbally agree that the gap you’ve uncovered is truly worth the risk and the pain of change. If they say no, then they’ve just disqualified themselves as a potential buyer, taking a lot of extra work off your plate. If they say yes, then they’re a good candidate and worth trying to convert them into a buyer.
So the question is, how do we get the buyer to verbally agree to make a change?
There are four steps in particular here:
- The “What” Question
- The “Confirmation” Question
- The “Reversal” Question
- Get Agreement
Step 1: The “What” Question
This question is designed to defy the buyer’s expectations that they’re about to get hit with some manipulative sales pitch. Instead of being pushy and off-putting, we’re going to probe a little bit deeper into their needs.
This question may look something like this:
In regard to (the pain), what would you like to see happen with it?
It’s a simple question. But it’s open-ended enough to bring to light some very serious pain points and solutions that you may not have uncovered otherwise.
Step 2: The “Confirmation” Question
Next up, we’re going to ask a question that confirms you’ve heard the buyer correctly about their pain points and desired solutions. Something like this:
What I’m hearing you say that you want is (repeat what they said). Have I got that right?
There’s quite a bit of subtlety in this question. On the one hand, you’re confirming that what you’re hearing is what the buyer wants, not what you’ve already pitched. This gives the buyer more agency and connects their wants to your product implicitly.
Beyond that, you’re also demonstrating to the buyer that you are invested in their needs and that you’re listening—fantastic for building rapport.
Step 3: The “Reversal” Question
Here in particular, the buyer will begin dreading what they think is ahead—the pitch. That unbearable time when talking to a rep where they feel they’re being manipulated, cheated, and coerced into a sale.
But what you’re going to do here is play off those expectations by asking the opposite of what they’re thinking. You’re going to ask them what they want.
That might look like this:
So, it seems like there are some issues here. What would you like me to do?
With a big enough gap, your potential buyer will be enthusiastic about working with you and ask to engage in the next steps (send us a proposal, schedule a demo, etc.).
Step 4: Get Agreement
Finally, you need to seal the deal by getting a verbal agreement to work together from the buyer. This commitment helps lock the buyer into partnering up. And it also does wonders for preventing them from bailing out further down the line.
This question might look like this in practice:
If I can solve (the pain), will you move from (competitor) to us?
Simple as that!
3. Eliminate Self-Doubt
At this stage of the framework, you’ve already identified the value gap and gotten the buyer to commit to signing on if you can solve their current pains. Sounds like that should be the end of things, right? What else is left?
As it turns out, logic alone isn’t enough to get buyers on board. Because buyers are humans. And humans are guided by emotions and social pressures. That means when there’s a risk of looking stupid, a buyer is going to be far less likely to sign on with you.
For instance, if a buyer signs on with your competitor only to switch to another vendor, they’re going to feel embarrassed in front of their colleagues. That’s why it’s up to you to give the buyer all the tools they need to look like the hero of the story.
There are two main ways to do that—give them customer stories and focus on the upside.
The Value of Customer Stories
Since humans are so innately social, it’s easy to understand why customer stories can have such a huge impact on how your buyer feels about signing on with you.
The opinions of others are highly influential on our own courses of action. And when you feed your potential buyer with customer success stories, it can do wonders in eliminating self-doubt.
Focus on customer stories where the case in question involves a buyer similar to your target prospect. The more similar they are, the more likely it’ll resonate with your target.
On top of that, these customer stories have the dual effect of showing buyers that other people are in fact making big changes. And those changes have paid off big in the long run.
Focus on the Upside
To even further eliminate self-doubt, you can ask a series of rhetorical questions that get prospects to understand the value of making the change.
What I call “would it be worth it” questions are fantastic for helping buyers focus on the upsides. These questions might look something like this:
- “If we move forward with the deal, get your team trained, and all it did was increase their performance by 10%, would it be worth it?”
- “If we replace the competitor’s camera equipment and all it did was eliminate all the breakdowns and lost time you’re currently facing, would it be worth it?”
Again, the questions here are mostly rhetorical. But along the way you’ll also be uncovering underlying desires of the buyer that may not have been out in the open before.
4. Answer “Why Now?”
Having identified the gap, gotten agreement, and eliminated self-doubt, it’s time to compel action.
In a perfect world, buyers would act immediately. After all, the sooner you implement, the sooner you can start seeing the benefits.
But we don’t live in a perfect world, unfortunately. And many buyers put off a purchase decision as much as they can. Maybe it’s next week, maybe next month, or maybe next quarter. But with each passing day, the odds of them pulling out of a deal grow higher and higher.
That’s why it’s vital you get your buyer to act now.
And that’s where trigger events come in. A trigger event is an event that gets people thinking about doing things a bit differently. It could be a superior product launch from a competitor. Or a CTO with institutional knowledge leaving the company. Or it could be a CRM breakdown that obliterates years of customer data.
No matter what the trigger event is, it’s bound to spur rapid change. And they’re great leverage for inspiring your competitor’s buyers to switch to your product.
You’ll know you’re in the right place at the right time when a trigger event is happening because you’ll hear your buyers say:
- “It’s ironic you have reached out to me right now. I have a concern about one of your competitors.”
- “I’m delighted you called. We’re looking at making a change. Can we speak next week?”
There are a few different types of trigger events that you can take advantage of.
Trigger Event 1: Bad Experiences
A bad user experience is likely to cause dissatisfaction. And when that happens, the buyer’s emotions will be running high. That’s the perfect time to convert an account, and buyers will be much more receptive to your pitch afterward.
Trigger Event 2: Internal Changes
An internal change within the buyer’s organization is another type of trigger event. It could be a change in talent, moving locations, shifting priorities, or anything else that makes the previous status quo now unmanageable.
This trigger event usually follows after a change in personnel or location. But it can also happen when there is a change in priorities in the organization from the top down too.
For instance, a computer company may decide overnight to stop producing hardware and only focus on software. This would be a great trigger event to exploit.
Trigger Event 3: Catastrophe
A catastrophic trigger event could be any of the other two trigger events, but this one is held in its own category because it immediately displaces your competition. In fact, it can displace the buyer making purchases of any kind.
One of the best recent examples of a catastrophe trigger event is COVID-19 in 2020. Overnight, buyers stopped buying certain products and services altogether. What’s more, these were products and services that were thought to be absolutely indispensable.
These events might happen only once every decade within large organizations, and so if you’re trying to convert an account and a catastrophic event hits, it’s like winning the lottery.
Artificial Trigger Events
If your market doesn’t have any trigger events right now, you can (and should) create an artificial trigger event.
While you can’t (and shouldn’t) try ousting CTOs, tainting competitor buyer experiences, or causing global catastrophes, you can offer a time-sensitive discount or benefit.
Think 5% off, free technical support for a week, or even professional training to sweeten the pot. But again, make sure it’s time-sensitive as otherwise the buyer won’t feel compelled to act.
Some salespeople don’t bother with going after their competitor’s accounts. They think their buyers are too entrenched in their current solution. And trying to bring them over is a waste of time and effort.
But buyers from the competition are actually some of the best leads you can get. They’re qualified, budget-ready, and efficient implementors. The only trick is you have to understand how to convince them your solution is the way to go.
The Competitive Takeover Framework is the absolute best method for persuading your competition’s buyers that you’re the superior solution to their problems.
Just follow the four simple steps:
- Find the Gap
- Get Agreement
- Eliminate Self Doubt
- Answer “Why Now?”
That’s all it takes. When you implement this framework into your processes, you’ll be amazed how quickly you’re converting buyers loyal to your competitor into excited new clients for your business.
And most importantly, you’ll be bringing on more qualified, ready-to-buy, and knowledgeable clients—letting you focus on closing more sales than ever.