One of the most important aspects of positioning, and differentiation, is identifying the competitive alternative. I’ve blogged about this in the past, but wanted to share a different perspective today. The importance of framing the competitive discussion early in the buying process.
Framing the competition is something you should do throughout the marketing and sales effort. Early on, describing the competitive alternatives and what makes you different helps buyers create a place for you in their mind. This competitive positioning also creates an environment for better discussions when things get more intense deeper in the buying process. This is not disparaging the competition or mudslinging. Instead, it is changing the discussion by communicating that you have a different philosophy, approach, or perspective for how to address the challenge or opportunity.
Late in the process, the specific competitors should be clear. The difference in the discussion when you are reacting defensively to claims of others (about themselves and you) v. are in a more proactive, positive position is based on framing. It also helps you take more of a high road position.
With framing, your discussion starts with, “as we have been discussing for the past few months, we specifically made choices that make us different than others. Those choices were X, Y, Z.” Then you can use those points to counteract the arguments and issues that are arising late in the process. Instead of sounding defensive, you are reinforcing competitive differentiation that you’ve been discussing on an ongoing basis. Wherever possible, link back to this when refuting claims. This won’t work for all competitive scenarios, but it should work much of the time, and really positions your business in a more positive light.
If you haven’t done this framing, pretty much all of your competitive responses will come across as reactive and defensive. Depending on your relationship with the buyer, some may work, but many won’t. A defensive posture rarely comes across as confident, and weakens your overall position, even if you do win the business.
Don’t confuse framing with being arrogant or dismissive of competitor claims. Buyers are bringing them up because they truly believe it is an issue, want to see how your respond, or give them some negotiating leverage. You need to address them. But through framing, you are guiding the discussion and can maintain a level of confidence that should be viewed positively by buyers, except in the case where the sole goal was to improve negotiating leverage. If that happens, expect other negotiating tactics to be used, but recognize that this might actually be a very positive buying signal for you.
If you’ve already been framing the competition, it would be great to hear how it works for you. If you haven’t, give it a try.
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