It’s called “competitive displacement,” and it’s a necessary part of a successful sales career.
Long-standing relationships are difficult to break. It’s hard to crack the bond your competitors have with their existing clients no matter how awesome your company is, how desirable your product is and how talented you are as a professional.
But it’s not impossible. You can find a wealth of opportunity by mining your competitors’ clients. Why? It’s not uncommon that prospects are unhappy with their current provider. If you can show your competitor’s client a better and simpler future, with less chaos and drama, you’ll be able to pick up new opportunities.
Some sales reps have success by building a relationship with a prospective client and then asking for just a small piece of business. The prospect may do a lot of business with one of your competitors, but they might be willing to place some business with a new company. You can say something like this: “I know I can provide a lot of value to you. I’d suggest you give me just one (account, project, etc.), just one small piece of business, and I’ll demonstrate my value. At the same time, you spread your risk by having more than one company working on your account.”
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, surprising them 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.
One thing I like to do with prospects who aren’t willing to make a change, is to turn the tables on them and lower the barrier to entry down the road. I might say something like, “I completely respect your desire to stay with someone who is meeting your needs, I’d do the same. I like to stay on the cutting-edge side of the industry, so I’m always busy looking at trends and issues that might impact clients, as there’s nothing worse than the buyer being surprised. As these insights arise, I’ll be sure you’re aware so you can make sure your current provider is taking good care of you.”
Plant Hurdles. Determine one or more things that you do better than any of your competitors. Then, when you’re trying to get a new client, 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 other companies cannot do.
There are a number of techniques you can try to get business from competitors’ clients, but there’s one technique I do not recommend: discounting your price. That’s the easy way out. Some reps 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 product/service 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).