Much earlier in my career, I taught a course at my local university as an adjunct professor. It was an upper-level course offered in the spring semester. I was probably a little too soft as a grader, so the course was known to be not the most rigorous one in the curriculum. Consequently, I always had a lot of graduating seniors in my class.
One of my students had decided to become a real estate agent upon graduating and affiliated with a large residential brokerage company. She was well connected for someone her age, and had a large network of friends. Nevertheless, she was dismayed on two separate occasions when a family member and good friend chose NOT to use her as their real estate agent.
You see, those people had bought and sold houses before and chose to keep their former real estate agents.
Why? The agents had done a great job for them and had built relationships that were too strong for the unproven neophyte agent to break. My former student was persistent, however. She kept prospecting and promoted her services to thousands of people. A year later, she had built plenty of professional relationships and was making sales.
I share this story with you to demonstrate that long-standing relationships are difficult to break. That’s why those relationships are so valuable. It’s hard to crack the bond your competitors have with their existing clients no matter how awesome your company is and how talented you are as a sales professional.
But it’s not impossible.
Here are some things you might consider if you’re trying to wiggle in between a client and your competitor:
Just One Thing
Some sales professionals have success by building a relationship with a prospective client and then asking for just a small piece of business. You can say something like this: “I know you have a strong relationship with XYZ Company, and I respect that. They certainly do a good job. But I know I can provide value too. What if you gave me just one account, just one small piece of business, so I can prove myself to you? At the same time, you spread your risk by having more than one company working on your account.”
Send a Gift
One way to get the attention of a competitor’s client is to send a strategic gift. I like to find the newest business book on the market especially one that relates to the prospect’s business or interests. Send a note explaining why you think the book is relevant to that person. It sometimes helps to shrink-wrap your note and the book together, so it seems like a big deal to the recipient. You can then call the recipient a couple days after they receive the gift. You’ll find the recipient likely will be more interested in talking to you because you sent an impactful gift.
Read the Reviews
In some industries, clients write reviews about companies online. Study the reviews written about your competitor. If you see a number of negative reviews that form a pattern, you might be on to a vulnerability you can exploit to get between them and their current clients. One disclaimer to keep in mind – if a client blasts your competitor online, it could mean the client is the problem and not your competitor. That could come back to bite your company if you take on that client.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice is to be in the fight for the long haul. If you walk away immediately upon hearing that a prospective client already has a relationship with one of your competitors, you’re giving up too quickly. Perhaps you could start a nurturing campaign in which you send compelling, value-laden emails to the prospect thus building a relationship slowly over time. You could periodically send them valuable bits of information or advice that show you are both thinking about them and coming up with unsolicited value. That will make you look good vis-à-vis their current provider who is likely taking the client for granted and no longer going above and beyond the call of duty.
Determine one or more things that you do better than any of your competitors. Then, when you’re trying to steal away one of your competitor’s clients, set a hurdle. In your conversations with that client, say something like this: “Whoever provides you with this service should always do ‘X.’” Of course, “X” is the thing you do well that you know the other company can’t do.
But Don’t Do This:
There are a number of techniques you can try, but there’s one technique I don’t recommend: discounting your price. That’s the easy way out, and it’s a short-term way of thinking. Some sellers think they’ll win over a new client by giving them a drastic discount. It might work, but know this – once you give a discount, the client might always expect that price. Plus, if you discount too much, you may end up losing money. Finally, a willingness to discount may make your project appear to be of diminished value. If you want a good client for a long period of time, you need to earn them the old-fashioned way (by providing value) as opposed to the easy-but-temporary way (discounting).