Having spent years as a competitive strategist, I have a deep understanding for what we need to know about our competitors in order to outsell them again and again.

There are three levels of competitive intelligence.  The first includes our competitor’s company—their size, locations, financial situation, reputation, etc. That’s all available on their website. The second level covers the competition’s products and services. Strengths are found on their website as well. The weaknesses are harder to come by. But with a network of customers, business partners, other sales reps, and a bit of ongoing research on the Internet, we can stay up with the challenges our competitors are having with what they sell.

For me, the real value is in understanding that third level—how the competitor’s sales people sell. Only a small percentage of sales reps think about this, even though the competitor’s selling capabilities directly and significantly impact those reps’ income and careers.

Can you imagine a professional athlete going into competition without having completely studied, under the direction of coaches and consultants, and employing video footage, every move, nuance, strength, and weakness of the opponent? Hard to imagine, right?

I know that in most companies those chartered to support the sales effort don’t provide much help regarding this third, and most important level of competitive information.  So sales people need to have their consciousness raised about the value of this information. And gathering it must become part of what they do every day.

Ideally, here is just some of the information we need to know about the sales reps who are competing against us in our most important opportunities:

  1. What degree of knowledge do they have about the industries into which they sell? Deep knowledge of the industry you are selling into can be a competitive advantage.
  2. Who are their happiest and most unhappy customers? Reps often overuse their largest and happiest customers as references. And they’ll hide their unhappy ones.
  3. What is their typical sales process? When do they suggest a demo? A conference room pilot? When do they submit a proposal? Go for the close?
  4. How high in accounts do they typically call? Some reps go right for the top with a strong, financially-driven value proposition. Others are afraid or incapable of calling high in customer organizations.
  5. What value do they provide during the customer’s buying cycle? Are they a knowledgeable, trusted resource for the customer?
  6. How are they measured and compensated? A salesrep on 50% fixed/50% variable compensation is typically more aggressive than one with less risk. 
  7. What is your win/loss ratio against them? Momentum is generated when a rep wins one or two deals against another rep. They gain confidence. The loser has an uphill battle that gets steeper for each deal they lose against you.
  8. What types of sales strategies do they typically use? Do they attack head on? Or are they more strategic, working on changing the customer buying criteria to what they uniquely deliver?
  9. When they win, why? When they lose, why?
  10. What do they say about your company? Do they negative sell? Where must you set traps or immunize against their assertions?

Here are some additional questions for sales leaders:

  1. Do you think this information is valuable for your salesreps to have?
  2. If so, how will you facilitate that information being gathered, analyzed, positioned, and distributed on an ongoing basis?
  3. When your reps have this information, what will they have to learn to do to outsell the competition in each and every opportunity?
  4. Is your sales training provider capable of providing content and learning in this area? 


Dave_Stein_Door_Head_Full_R-1Dave Stein is CEO and Founder of ES Research Group, Inc. ESR is an independent research, advisory, and consulting firm that focuses on sales training programs and the companies that provide them. Read more at Dave Stein’s blog and ESR’s website. Follow Dave on Twitter at @davestei.




For more tips to tune your sales strategy, download this Salesforce.com ebook: