It’s not easy selling against an established personal relationship. But while getting a foothold over a competitor’s services or product is certainly a challenge, it’s not insurmountable. Salespeople who do their homework, position themselves correctly, and practice patience can ultimately create opportunities for themselves. Here are some tips and sample one-liners to help open a conversation.
Do your research. Find other areas where you can offer a service that the other vendor can’t.
Script: Just out of curiosity, let’s compare the pros and cons of the choices you have.
Ask the right questions. Ask the buyer open-ended questions that might give you some insight about the relationship. You have to be careful not to be too pushy or obnoxious. You’re simply trying to determine the buyer’s needs.
Script: Is there anything about me or my company that is holding you back from doing business with us?
Be a backup. If your competitor has the account locked up, try to become the second or third vendor of choice and start working hard to build a relationship, especially if you find that the buyer is the type of person who prizes relationships.
Script: I’m not asking for all of your business, just one percent of it. I’m confident that my company and I can earn the other 99 percent.
Develop contacts. Be on the lookout for champions at the target account. (But don’t step on any existing contacts you might have made while you’re working your way up the ladder. You never know when you might drop a rung or two.)
Script: Would it be helpful if I also talked with your sales operations manager/CEO/CFO?
Pace yourself. If you’ve tried everything and are still stuck, you can try asking for a fair shot outright. If that seems too aggressive, pull back a bit and reassess. Instead of checking in weekly, check in monthly.
Script: We will be announcing some exciting new developments in three weeks that I think can help your business. Would that be a good time to get in touch with you?
A final point: Don’t give up. Keep working at the relationship, because you never know what might happen. Companies might merge or a salesperson could leave. Sometimes when there’s a long-term buying relationship, sellers can begin to take buyers for granted. All of those situations could represent a valuable opportunity to a salesperson who is on the ball. If you invest in learning about the objectives and goals of the buyer and design a program around those, the buyer will see you as having a greater understanding of his or her needs.