Is Your Biggest Competitor Actually Your Client?

//Is Your Biggest Competitor Actually Your Client?

Is Your Biggest Competitor Actually Your Client?

Most professional sales directors and sales people spend time assessing their competitors in the market.

They duly check websites to see what they say about themselves, assess their products/services and review their pricing.

Many of you will have had a friendly client who slipped you a discreet copy of a competitor’s proposal over a beer or three.

In addition, you may have hired an employee from the ‘bad guys’ who also gave you some intelligence on their go-to market strategy.

All good…but what if the mob down the road actually wasn’t your biggest competitor preventing you from winning new business.

What if, in the tradition of ‘Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy’ your client is a secret double agent conspiring against you?

Let’s look behind the overcoats and dark sunglasses to see who they might be:

PROCUREMENT (Agent 007.5 percent)

Procurement is charged with more than just reducing costs. Many of the more strategic procurement people are actively building relationships with key executive sponsors and divisional managers in an effort to be seen as a critical advisor and partner. When they have ‘won over’ their internal decision makers, they become the gatekeepers of what sales messages get through or not.

If your solution makes it harder for them to be seen as knowledgeable, expert or true advisors, it may be sitting in the deep archives of the round filing cabinet. A good example of this is genuinely complex or technical solutions that require subject matter experts or significant transition programs.

THE BIGOT (Nigel Powers)’ There are only two things I can’t stand in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures… and the Dutch.’


This client has his/her favourites and it’s not just their relationship manager. They just love Mercedes and hate Audis or they always want to buy cheap or expensive because of their own personal biases. They know how to work the system so that surprise, surprise their favourite solution always happens to get the nod.

A classic example is a new COO or CIO that brings their favourite suppliers across quickly, regardless of whether they’re a good fit for their new company or not.


Your proposal is great for the victim’s company. It cuts head count, reduces waste, improves productivity and leads to world peace……so why don’t they jump at it.

Maybe it’s because this guy is personally impacted by the decision and change is not his friend.

He doesn’t want to cut head count, not because he has a soft heart, but because it diminishes his power and influence. The ‘waste’ is stuff he likes spending his budget on and the productivity gain often comes with a new bunch of KPIs to which he and his team need to adhere.

It’s all a bit too much change for our comfy victim so he’ll use all of your hard work and research to pick holes in it to make even the sexiest proposal look as attractive as the poster photos politicians reject.

So, how do you navigate this Cold War?

  • Carefully assess the client – don’t assume they’re just really interested in your widgets
  • Get the bright light out and ask lots and lots of questions about their role, their current perceptions, their background –get them talking so they reveal a bit more of themselves, not just the project at hand.
  • When you discover a double agent, move quickly. Get your full company behind a strategy…..take action.

It’s always best to leave them shaken…..and stirred.

Written by Elliot Epstein, CEO, Salient Communication

Elliot is a keynote speaker who has also trained and coached over 3000 people throughout the Asia Pacific Region including CEOs, Olympians and Leadership teams and is a sought after keynote speaker on Executive Presentations, Sales, Negotiation and Leadership.

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2017-10-12T06:14:40+00:00 September 22nd, 2013|Executive Level Selling|1 Comment

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One Comment

  1. Herman Mills September 23, 2013 at 2:25 am

    Yep that explains a lot. I often wondered why it seems like deliberate bad decision are made.

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