10 ideas on how to leave the competition behind

Open access On-line only no. 6/2019

You aren’t always selling products and services that you have influence over. The competition has lower prices, more choice, and you can’t entice the customer with discounts, promotions or freebies, because your company’s policy doesn’t allow it. In such cases, I often hear from salespeople that it's not their fault that the customers don’t buy. What if you find an idea for differentiating yourself from the competition...?

Customers want a salesperson who will give them what they need. I'm not talking about the product. When making transactions, customers need a sense of security, a sense of efficacy, a sense that their problems or challenges are being solved. Each of the tips below is based precisely on these three needs. I’ll present them for three areas: attitude towards the customer, values, and value added.


Tip 1. Forget about the product, start with the customer

I don’t keep statistics, but having observed salespeople for 13 years, I can see that most of them talk about their products for almost the entire conversation, forgetting who really matters in this conversation. When they agree to the meeting, the customer hopes their needs will be important to someone. The beginning of the conversation is a test for you. Whether you get through it depends on how much you notice the person you’re talking to, forgetting for a moment about the product or services you sell. Immerse yourself in the customer’s world and be there. Be attentive and curious. That’s a competitive advantage, which is very desirable in today’s sales environment.

Tip 2. Listen

To immerse yourself in the customer's world, you need to be able to listen. If at least once during the conversation you think about what question to ask the customer, and - lacking ideas- you start talking about your product, your offer, your company, the reason was certainly that you didn’t listen. During the meeting, the customer gives you lots of tips. If you see that they’re talking about something with great emphasis or emotion, it’s probably quite important to them. Pay attention to the words, which may have a different meaning for you (good quality, many customers). Be precise about what those mean for the customer to be sure that you’re talking about the same thing.


One of the companies I worked with was called by a customer who wanted to terminate their cooperation agreement. He explained that he had to close down his business, as he hadn’t been able to attract clients for some time. If it was not for the listening skills of the salesman taking the call, the company would probably lose the client.

What did the salesman do?

He asked the customer to tell him how he used to find clients. That is, how it was when things were good. Thanks to the fact that he listened to the story and asked questions that clarified several issues, he managed to establish an operational strategy for the customer using one of the company’s products. It turned out that the customer didn’t even know that the company could give him opportunities to acquire new clients.

Tip 3. Adapt

When you treat customers systematically, they quickly notice. If your organization uses call scripts, use your head, adjust your communication to the customer. Pay attention to their style of communication (whether they’re more analytical and need hard data, or for example whether it’s important for them to make the decisions about the course of your conversation).

Tip 4. Tell the secret

We like to know more than others, to have access to confidential and even secret information. Feed the customer’s need to be in-the-know, telling him something that only a few customers in your industry know.


You sell training services and convince a client to buy from you. When discussing the topic of measuring results, you might say:

-I’ll tell you a secret. Often, when measuring the effects of training, we observe behaviour immediately after training, when it’s quite likely that the observations will be positive. The key to success is to monitor such behaviour after a month of training. That’s why... (here, indicate how the client will benefit from having access to such information).

Tip 5. Give the customer two solutions and let them choose

Customers very often fear that they’ll get a product or service that completely fails to meet their expectations and needs. For this reason, not everything is sold online, because customers need consultation and assistance with selection. If you want to be a great value for the customer:

  • Ensure that you find a solution together (the key is to use, if possible, the word ‘solution’).
  • Offer the two solutions that will be best for the customer (even if you have only one product or service, try to find two solutions). On the one hand, the customer will feel that you’ve taken care of them and given them real information, and on the other hand they’ll appreciate the opportunity to make a choice. They will therefore have a sense of agency.
  • Ask which of the solutions will be more beneficial fort them.
  • After they make their decision, say that you’re happy that you’ve found a solution that works for them.


You’re selling a multi-function food processor at demonstrations organized at customers’ homes. After talking to the customer and determining their kitchen challenges, you might say:

- We can certainly find a solution for your problem, that you don’t have time to cook (continuation of sales, showing benefits, values).

Use the following phrases in your sales conversation:

  • This food processor will be perfect in your case, when you don’t have much time to cook and prepare meals. There are two solutions. You can buy it for cash or pay in instalments. Which of these solutions would be better you?
  • I'm glad that I was able to find a good solution for you.


Tip 6. Show value

At practically every sales training I’ve participated in, I talk about showing the customer benefits. This is quite understandable, but most salespeople are already working on it. If you want to stand out, go a step further. Show value. It’s best if you can convert value for the customer into money. On a piece of paper, together calculate the various scenarios (optimistic, realistic and pessimistic) that may be associated with your product or service.


You sell access to an application using which your client can acquire new customers and check reviews regarding their payment reliability. For this service, the client pays $200 a month. After the needs diagnosis, you determine that one customer brings your client approx. $3000 income (after deducting all costs).


Annual fee for service: $2,400


  • pessimistic scenario: no new customer - $ 0
  • realistic scenario: three new customers per year – 3 x $3,000 = $9,000
  • optimistic scenario: one new customer per month 12 x $3,000 = $36,000

Value for the customer per year:

  • pessimistic scenario: $2,400 LOSS
  • realistic scenario: $9,000 – $2,400 = $6,600 PROFIT
  • optimistic scenario: $36,000 – $2,400 = $33,600 PROFIT

Tip 7. Solve a small problem for the client at the first meeting

Your client certainly faces many challenges and problems in their business. Some of them are bigger and more important, others are less important, but solving them can make the client's life easier. If you have the option, try to solve one of these small problems, giving a hint, advice, suggesting a tool they can use. Make sure that they can use your advice quite easily and quickly - if possible, even during your conversation. Customers appreciate salespeople who are able to do more for them than just selling products and services.

Tip 8. Tell a good story

Tell the client about how your product or service has solved another client’s problem. To do this, create (recall) a story that you can tell in the following way:

character - problem - solution - connection with the client

Example story for a salesperson who sells recruitment services

Mrs. Lee, I had a similar client - a fairly large company with several dozen branches in Poland. A prestigious brand, just like yours.

Personality (similar to the client)

They struggled with recruiting salespeople. It was quite the problem for them, because they lost sales, and they lost a lot of energy and money training people who wound up leaving their jobs anyway.

Problem (similar to the client’s problem)

After analysing the client’s recruitment process, we found key elements that resulted in poor recruitment and high employee turnover. Thanks to that, we found a solution. The cause turned out to be very simple. The client had their job advertisements written in such a way that the employees thought they were applying for administrative positions, not sales positions.



I see some similarities in your case. You have a very similar problem, so my idea is to conduct an audit of your recruitment process.

Connection with the client


Tip 9. Be prepared

Do not waste your clients' time - get ready to talk to them. You should learn a few important things about your counterpart before meeting them. The following list may vary depending on the product or service that you are selling.

  • the client’s industry,
  • how long their company has been in operation,
  • company size,
  • who makes decisions at the client’s company,
  • the most common problems in the industry,
  • the client’s biggest competitors,
  • what value your product can offer the client,
  • whether your client’s operations are seasonal (volume of work, increased sales),
  • level of customer service/sales.

Also visit the client's website - see what they’re proud of, what sets them apart, what’s important to them. Awareness of these things will help you conduct a conversation with the client that will bring them real benefits and find solutions.


Before I start talking with clients about training sales department employees, I prepare myself for it. I conduct a ‘secret shopper’ survey with companies I’m interested in working with, and with their competitors. The result is a report of the most common sales errors and a comparison of the sales quality of my potential customers and their competition. Clients quickly appreciate my preparation, which has helped me convince many of them to work with me.

Tip 10. Make a promise and keep it

Your client has surely been disappointed by salespeople in the past. Perhaps they did not keep their promises, perhaps they cheated him, or perhaps he expected something completely different from what he got. For this reason, he may distrust salespeople. If you want to stand out among your competitors - help the client trust you. Make them a little promise, and then keep it. This could be, for example, sending an e-mail with an article you were talking about, calling at the agreed time, or getting information important to the client and sharing it.


As a salesperson in a large call centre, I offered clients debt collection services. The competition was huge, because debt collection companies pop up like mushrooms after rain. I had to give these clients something more than just the service that I had to offer them. Every time a client told me about their debtors, I suggested additional solutions that they could use, outside of my offer. In this way, the client received information which was important to them, and I gained their trust.

Using the above tips, remember about one basic principle. Be yourself. This is the greatest value that you can offer to the client. I am tempted to say that authenticity in sales is the greatest competitive advantage of today.

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