TALKING SALES 75: "Sales agility and competitive traps"

John Smibert

"How to set a competitive trap" - Interview by John Smibert

TB Pic 300x300 Sept 2015In this conversation Tony Bonanno shares two key capabilities that salespeople need in order to maximise their success; 1. Agility, and 2. Setting the competitive trap.

About 'agility' - Tony emphasised that customers march to their own drum and their actions and reactions are often unpredictable.  Salespeople need to develop the ability to be agile and respond to those things in an effective and constructive way.

About 'setting the competitive trap' - Tony claims it is a lost art for many. he says that in prior years it was more prevalent in the sales process than it is today. It comes from understanding your competitors really well - knowing their shortcomings - and without denigrating them - help your customer set a trap for them..

See the interview below for an example of how this can be done.

Tony Bonnano is a thought leader in sales management, sales growth and behavioural change

See more of the 'TALKING SALES' series here


John: I'm with Tony Bonanno again - welcome back, Tony!

Tony: Thanks, John!

John: Hey Tony, with all your experience I'd like to get from you what you think the two or three key things that salespeople need to be able to do to be successful.

Tony: Sure.

John: Thinking about that one, eh? [laughs]

Tony: Yes. I think I'm going to go to a place where most professionals won't go, because there's some obvious things that they should be doing, like being good questioners, being good listeners and all that other stuff. I want to go to a place that's often forgotten, and that's the ability to bend and flex with whatever's going on in that deal situation.

John: Having agility in the deal.

Tony: Absolutely, being agile. And there's one key thing that I think that is often missed, is the ability to set a competitive trap.

John: Okay. Well, let's talk about those two things; agility first. I know a lot of salespeople we train to follow a process, and sometimes I wonder whether that causes them to be less agile than they should be?

Tony: Well, when everything's going according to the process it's easy for them to just to follow the routine. It's when things don't according to the process-you know, the customer doesn't have the same script in their head that you have in your head.

John: They throw a curveball at you.

Tony: And they do. We traditionally call those things objections, and I've seen many salespeople try to answer an objection, instead of manage the objection and put it in perspective and work out "What is that I need to be doing here?"

John: Or, they just go to water.

Tony: And back away, and... Yeah. So, the ability to be agile and respond to those things is a key skill that I think salespeople need to develop.

John: And we can train people to develop that skill?

Tony: Absolutely! It's a matter of training them to listen for the key things, to understand the intent behind what is said, to then work out how do I now take that information and replay it back to the customer in a way that the customer says "Okay, I get what you mean - let's move on." or they give you permission to move on, or you make a commitment to come and deliver some value that they were missing out on.

John: And we need to learn how to just stop and reflect sometimes when we are listening and think about it, and then go to the next question or draw the customer out more, rather than reacting.

Tony: Yes, nothing wrong with a bit of silence.

John: It's golden, it's golden. Okay, that was the first thing, and then you talked about the competitive trap.

Tony: Competitive trap. It's a lost art I think. Certainly many years ago I knew that it was a bit more prevalent in the sales process, and it comes from understanding your competitors really well. Let me give you an example. Let's say, for example, I have a product called ABC, and you have a product called xyz. My strength of ABC is green, and you can't match green - you've got red and blue and everything else, but you can't match green. So, what I would do is have a conversation with my customer, preferably with the key decision makers, to establish that green is important to them, and I would then take it on myself to say "Well, if I can't deliver green in my ABC product then I'm not going to get the business, am I?" and they'll agree with me.

John: Right.

Tony: Now, because I've got that agreement, I can now go play it up even more and say "I would expect that that's now going to be part of the specifications."

John: Right, your requirements you are going to test me on.

Tony: So, you know, I'm going to go away and make sure that I can deliver green, knowing that that is the standard that you're expecting.

John: And then I walk in with my xyz, haven't got green...

Tony: Haven't got green...

John: I'm blown out of the water.

Tony: So, what really happens is that the customer springs the trap on behalf of the salesperson, when it's well set.

John: Okay, I get it. I get it - it sounds good. You don't think that's manipulating the situation?

Tony: I think it's controlling the situation to the point where you do not denigrate your competition. Not once in that example did I say anything bad about my competition, I'm merely making sure that my customer is getting the value that they deserve and want, and I'm setting the bar at the right level.

John: Very, very good point. And, of course, green's got to be important though to the customer; there's not much point doing it, if it's not.

Tony: Oh, it's got to be. And that's why you have that conversation, and the best place to set a competitive trap is when you're doing 'discovery'.

John: Okay. So, the bottom line is you've got two key points. One's the agility and being able to respond and not react to the customer, being able to move and change as the customer might throw you a curve-ball or an objection or whatever, and so every salesperson needs to have that skill.

Tony: That's right.

John: And I agree, the really good ones are absolutely brilliant at that. And the second point was you need to learn how to set a competitive trap, and I like the example. Thanks, Tony - that was great!

Tony: Pleasure, John - pleasure!


More interviews with Tony Bonanno:



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