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Stake out your competitors

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A request came from a reader for me to write about how to handle competitors.

Now this is a topic dear to my heart. I am a bulldog; once I have a bone I cannot let it go. I am a typical hunter in the sales realm.

We know there are hunters and farmers. The hunters go out and get the business. They are not that good at the behind-the-scenes paperwork and administration.

Good hunters need sales co-coordinators who take over the nitty gritties. The farmers are efficient with business that is already in place.

They will maintain and even nurture it. They can manage the administration aspect as well.

So in the sales team it is important to firstly ascertain who the farmers are and who the hunters are.

For example, in a team of four, I would like two hunters and one farmer and a sales co-ordinator.

In a team of two make sure one is a hunter, otherwise you will never get new business.

Personality profiling is an excellent tool to drill down further on the attributes of each team member. Hunters like working alone.

They want praise and recognition when they come back with their “kill”.

Farmers want to talk about it and explain the details. So the sales manager has to know this otherwise the team will not be motivated to go out the next day and achieve.

These days I see too many people in sales who have marketing or public relations profiles.

A different type of person is needed for these roles. So do be cognisant of the fact that if you want a killer sales team you need your hunters and farmers and co-coordinators. It also depends on the type of business and at which stage that business is at.

The next step is to analyse your customer base. Ensure that you understand that the hunter salesperson needs certain types of customers.

The hunter will aim for the jugular and that is straight to the decision-maker. The hunter will make contacts from bottom to top but will step over them all to get an answer.

The farmer, however, will be more gentle and steady and start with the receptionist, then work their way to a second in line to the decision-maker.

The farmer will feel more comfortable building relationships with all of the stepping stones, even if they don’t produce the business and keep stalling with proposal and price requests.

The sales manager and in fact the senior management team need to ensure that they all understand this instead of issuing ultimatums at commercial and sales reviews.

The senior management team need to be involved with the closing of business.

The farmer will take the business as far as the finance manager, or logistics or marketing manager and will need the back-up of the internal team on these calls.

The hunter will be able to close quicker and it will be a good tactic if the sales manager ensures that all the newly-acquired business is introduced to the senior management team.

This is the first step in ensuring that the competitors will not get your business. They have to know more than the sales team in your organisation.

The contracts and the database pertaining to the customer list must be in a separate file in the MD’s or finance manager’s office.

So, often good sales managers or sales teams leave and the sales management system is a mystery to the management team.

Match the customer type to the sales type.

Ensure that there is synergy.

The competitor is usually going to the same places as your sales team.

They size each other up, the vehicle branding, the uniforms, and the potential business that is there.

Make a note of where you see your competitor.

It could only be in a certain industry segment.

Ask your customers what the competitor does better than you and what you do better than them.

Compile a report with this information and your solutions to ensure that the competitor does not erode your business. Simply ask: “What can we do for you, that we are not already doing?”

When sales are doing well the management team don’t always give the sales team the credit and when things are down they blame the sales team.

A competitor strategy is important. Know your competitors. Stop complaining about how the new entrants are stealing your business.

How do you think the music industry feels about free downloads? You have to move with the times. How does the customer engage with you?

Would they prefer an email to a visit? Here in Zambia, telesales just doesn’t work and everyone wants to be visited.

The adage,“out of sight, out of mind,” applies. So the way a sales team is set up in Zambia is different to how it is done in Zimbabwe.

I recall when I was the sales manager at the Sheraton Hotel, we thought that the Meikles Hotel and Monomatapa Hotel were direct competitors for conferencing and banqueting, only to discover that Holiday Inn were, because they had produced menu selectors with two-course and three-course meals that were way more cost-effective than the rest of us.

They were getting the business and beating all of us.

Conference business with accommodation is the name of the game and we had been looking at the room rates and not the conference packages.

Often we are looking in the wrong place. When it comes to competitor analysis – go for the kill!

Carol White is Zimbabwean and working in Zambia running her own training and consultancy business. For sales management audits, sales team training and coaching: email: ideas@carolwhiteconsultancy.com www.carolwhiteconsultancy.com

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