Give your cold calls a powerful advantage by gathering competitive intelligence

by on February 3, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Selling Essentials Info Center

Your cold calls can improve with better competitive intelligence

In any professional sport, studying the opposition and their strengths and weaknesses is widely accepted as part of preparation for a big game or match. Ignorance is not even an option. Similarly, in my experience with cold calls, top salespeople always try to find out who their direct competitors are – not just the companies and their offerings but the sales reps they go toe to toe with.

You need to answer these three critical intelligence questions in cold calls:

  1. Who are my competitors?
  2. What are they doing right now to take my customers away?
  3. What am I going to do about it?

Knowing your competitors and how they operate is crucial. This knowledge can help you predict what they will do in various cold calls. If you know how they are going to behave, you can safeguard your position with a customer or prospect by heading off the competition’s likely tactics and strategies.

Three levels of detail in cold call intelligence

Finding out about a competitive company and its products or services is the easy part. I call that Level One information, and it is readily available, often because the company publicizes it. You can look at the company’s Web site, read their annual report or 10-K filings, or check analyst reports, press releases and Internet forums or chat rooms.

Look for details about:

  • Company background and reputation. What is it likely to highlight or hide?
  • Financial information. Is your competitor losing money? Gaining or losing market share?
  • Key business strategies, outlook, changes or events. Are they pursuing new markets? Launching new products? Adding or cutting staff?

Digging even deeper for information to use in cold calls

Level Two information deals with products or services. Some is readily available; some is kept hidden. Look on competitors’ Web sites and run online searches.Most critical to cold calls is what’s in your competitor’s product pipeline? That info may be jealously guarded, but it’s probably what your competitors are talking to customers and prospects about.

Possible sources for cold calls:

  • The U.S. Government Patent & Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov).
  • Internet domain names, which may be registered in advance of product announcements.
  • Public records at EPA, FDA or other regulatory agencies that may require advance notice of new products, processes or initiatives.

Good idea: One of my clients collected three years of a competitor’s new product announcements and compared them, in table format, to what was actually delivered. The table became a potent sales tool.

Uncovering the shortcomings of a competitor’s product or services is a little tougher.
You can get bits and pieces of that information from:

  • Customers who have used your competitor’s products previously, perhaps at another company.
  • Internet postings, especially in end-user forums or communities.
  • Sales reps for other vendors who serve the same industry but don’t compete with you.

The real paydirt for cold calls
The really critical information for cold calls is Level Three. It has to do with how the sales rep that goes head to head with you plays the game. This is especially useful because sales reps typically run up against the same people time after time, but know very little about them. For example:

  1. What’s their sales methodology? If you know, you can anticipate their approach and counter it.
  2. Do they try to control the process or let the prospect drive the bus?
  3. What sales strategies do they typically use?
  4. Do they count on personal relationships to win?
  5. Ask prospects about alternatives they’re considering. Then ask follow-up questions about the sales rep or team you are up against.
  6. One way to gather this intelligence: Get in the habit of asking customers and prospects questions that can unearth competitive information.

Other options:
Speak with customers, recruiters, business partners and other salespeople at your company. Look on social networking sites. Join industry associations, go to conferences or networking events, and make contact with people who know your competitor. Accumulating and maintaining this information is time consuming, of course. But it’s critical to know not just what your competitors sell, but how they sell it.

Based on “How Winners Sell,” by Dave Stein

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