Product Development October 20, 2020

What if a client asks about your competitors?

Alessandro Bernardi @bernardamus

Yesterday something "funny" happened at socialelephants.com 🐘
We are negotiating with a client to start working together and, all of a sudden, he told me that he needs to present at least 3 different offers to his boss to make a decision, so basically he asked me to provide a list of other Tools similar to Social Elephants.
Somehow you want to be transparent and professional, but you don't even want to create a good lead for your "worst" competitor, isn't it?
Did it ever happen to you? What was your choice?

I finally decided to select a list of very professional solutions, those kind of APPs that you probably would get quickly by running some research on google, most of them are very complete but also very expensive. I hope the client will appreciate the value of our platform at a much more affordable price.

  1. 5

    This is an opportunity to stand out!

    Be honest about pros and cons of your competitors. Definitely don’t disparage them.

    This could be a time to stand out by going really in depth on why your product is better, cheaper, faster, etc.

    If the competition is mega corps, then you have an advantage by being small. More high touch, more personal relationships,

    The customer will find the other competitors so it’s not like you will convince him to use someone else by telling him about them.

    1. 2

      Sure, the close personal relationship is always a PLUS! Also certain flexibility to listen to the client to adapt the roadmap of product development.
      On the other side some "Mega corps" are convincing in terms of (supposed) reliability or ,for example, they meet some crazy security requirements that seem to be build up on purpose to cut off all the other tools!

      1. 1

        For sure, that’s a great point.

        I think if a client is more interested in the mega Corp for those reasons, then they’re not your ideal customer at this point in your timeline.

        Having that type of customer might not even be a good fit for you either.

        I think naturally a lot of companies progress and start looking for the more enterprise-y clients since there is big money there. With that comes a host of other concerns. Hiring sales folks, supporting a SLA, security requirements, etc.

  2. 4

    if a client asks about your competitors, tell them what you do better/faster/cheaper than them. And he won't be interested in your competitors anymore. xD

    1. 1

      Right...even if sometimes it is really difficult to judge... consider that not all the competitors offer free trials for example! Actually it is really an hard job and at some extent also quite subjective when you try to benchmark different tools!

  3. 3

    Most larger services even have dedicated sales pages for such comparisons. See Hubspot for example (1). I would suggest that you go to G2crowd or other rating sites and take a look at the questions people have. Also the cons for other services so you can stand out there.

    (1) https://www.hubspot.com/products/sales/salesforce-vs-hubspot

    1. 1

      Yep, that's definitely a good resource to tweak your own product understanding the weakness of your competitor. I also wonder: why don't they fix those issues themselves? Maybe these issues are impossible to fix really!

      1. 2

        We live in times after multiple market consolidations. Many companies in ingested smaller companies in their segment, often integrating those niche competitors to either enlarge their portfolio or to get technology quicker. The thing I see happening to many of those companies in different markets (ex.: marops landscape) is that they either struggle with something they bought and…

        • …couldn't integrate properly or in reasonable time frame and within budget
        • …haven't had the existing customers for this product and drove off existing customers of the original company

        Some just copied badly from others because enterprise sales demanded one more item on their endless list of features. What I have yet to see: Unfixable issues. Imo it's mostly a product and development focus decision that's the reason for bad implementation where others can stand out.

        This results in lots of opportunities. Not only for products, but also for marketing and dedicated sales pages.

        1. 1

          "…couldn't integrate properly or in reasonable time frame and within budget" 👉 this reminds me the case of the popular Buffer app that recently bought another app to offer the Buffer Reply solution : in the end apparently they had some integration issues and also some doubts about the market fit, so, in the end, they shut down that project.

          In the Social Media tools ecosystem I see quite a number of huge brands buying other tools to extend their offer, for example Marketing Cloud or Khoros (Spreadfast + Lithium), according to the feedback I receive that integration is not really smooth in many cases.
          I understand it can be a quick way to increase the portfolio and extend the market (good for Venture Capital) , not sure it's the optimal solution for the User Experience.

  4. 3

    This is pretty common for b2b buyers. They need to justify the decision to their boss, and their boss wants to know they shopped around a bit before picking a service, especially if your service is pricey.

    It sounds like you’re well positioned to succeed in this Sales relationship.

    1. 1

      Thanks for your feedback! Let's see if I lose the lead or not! 🤪

  5. 2

    Showing competitors is a great way to appear a specialist in the area! That will build trust on ur customer. I would jump in and show detailed comparaison.
    If u have a blog u could blog about it.
    If you have a website you could add a section or a page to show ur competitor and how u stand out.

  6. 2

    Give them competitors you think you can beat -- and that ideally will come in at a high price point that will make you look cheaper.

    Set landmines -- things you know your competitors either can't do or won't do -- early in the prospect's mind. They need to think the things you do better are important and the things you maybe don't do so well really don't matter (or you will work to fix them while your competitors won't).

    Most of our sales involve converting customers away from some other product, and even when they aren't using a competitor's tool, once contract values go north of $20,000 it's very common that management will want to see the buyer shopped around before settling on you.

    Lots of weird things can happen in B2B during this process -- often relationships and familiarity trump actual quality, and the client won't know which product is best or has better service until after they buy, so even if you have a better product or better service that is not guarantee you will win the deal.

    Being the first to find the prospect and building the relationship / creating the framework in the buyer's mind that they will use to evaluate other products will give you an advantage, but it's not a guarantee that weird things won't happen once other decisionmakers you don't know about yet get pulled into your sales process. In addition to my advice above, I would suggest trying to establish a relationship with any other potential decisionmakers who will have a voice in whether they buy you or not -- i.e. trying to get introduced by this guy to his boss and having that conversation with the person who will sign your check.

    It can be tricky in sales to sell something to a business that hasn't ever bought something similar before, because they usually won't have budget allocated for whatever you are selling, so they'll want to shop around to understand the ballpark price range for this kind of tool -- just like you would shop around if you were going to buy a car for the first time.

    Good luck!

    1. 1

      Thanks for your extended answer, very interesting points!

  7. 2

    I've been there. Here's my approach for it. And, for some reason, never failed me.

    You have to realize that FOMO is a real fucking thing. Just like your post describes the FOMO on the client's work, the client has his own goals (very important goals).

    Your focus should be to identify what those goals are. Promise him those (if you actually CAN deliver). And tell him about a few things that he will only be able to experience the impact of if he gives you the project. Otherwise, he will never find out what it was and what impact it could've made.

    As sellers, we often forget how FOMO goes both ways. We think the client is doing us a fucking favor by giving his project. No, you're doing him a fucking favor by giving him closure and letting him see the UNIQUE aspects of how YOU deliver your service.

    The best part about this approach?

    Even if he goes away to your competitor, you've left a BLACK HOLE in his soul forever. He will NEVER know what you could've done, if he had went for you.

    And, in my experience, this fact alone will almost always make you win the competition game.

    "Competition is for losers." - Peter Thiel

    Hope this helped :)

    1. 2

      Let's hope that "Black Hole" will finally capture the client with its gravity!

      1. 1

        Haha! Yeah. I wrote that on a spur of the moment lol. You get the point, though, right?

        I think over time, I started to give my clients the best information at hand (I never went out of my way to hunt competitors for them, in such situations). And that always worked out better than trying to keep them. The fomo is a "black hole" we all get suckered into. They're no different.

  8. 2

    I've experienced this before, it's a normal request and I strongly recommend being honest and open. "Here's who we compete against, here's what we do well and here's when they might be a better fit."

    If you don't have good answers to those questions, now is a good time to work on that!

  9. 2

    From what you've said, I think you handled it great. I've been in the same situation many times. My problem was staying up to date with the competition. This took up a lot of my time and if I wasn't up to date, then I came off as not knowledgeable of the market. Anyway, long story short, that interaction was the inspiration for our software, basically summarizes competitor website changes into a weekly report. What worked for me was making a comparison sheet and noting down common questions for future reference.

  10. 2

    This is very common in the corporate world. Upper management needs to see a few options.

    List out pros and cons of each. DO NOT every demean your competitors.

    When I am talking to a company and they start demeaning or saying anything negative about a competitor, it shows me they are not mature enough for my business, not confident, and more.

    Be honest. Be open.

  11. 2

    That's a great question. I general I would play ignorant and would tell that I don't know of anyone else in this field that would do something as good as ourselves, but if they would found one, please share.

    However, people are constantly searching for alternatives. A very popular keyword search phrase: "[name] alternavites" or "[name] competitors". For that reason, being a SaaS company, we've designed a couple of new landing pages, so when people are currently with our competitor but want to switch to something more cost effective (and we are!), they found us through these online searches.

    Example. Type "Weglot Alternative" and you are likely to find this landing page: https://www.conveythis.com/compare/weglot-alternative/

    The customers are not dumb, they will google your company's name with the prefix alternative/competitors and will likely discover more.

    I hope this helps. Cheers!

    1. 2

      Great SEO strategy! I'll try to do something inspired on your example!

    2. 1

      Actually I just realized that one of our competitors is running this strategy "against" us ... which is sort of a compliment, this means we are somehow popular!
      https://socialbu.com/social-media-scheduling-tools/socialbu-vs-social-elephants

      The only issue is: what if some of the info about socialelephants.com is inaccurate?

  12. 2

    Sounds like you handled it well!
    The first person you have to “sell” is yourself. If you believe in your product/differentiation/value -> then it will show.

    1. 1

      Thanks!
      Let's see if the Client got it right!

  13. 2

    That's very true if your customer is a large corp, because afterall they're lazy and they want you to do the job for them (list out 3 vendors).

    Just do it fairly and of course make yourself stand out - highlight your key USPs. And never bash competitors, always.

    1. 2

      Yeah Jessica, that's exactly what I did! Thanks!

  14. 2

    This is common in software and in the agency world.
    Know how you stack up against the competition what advantages you each have... make sure you understand what your client needs and position your client against those specific needs and give them the names of 3 competitors that you don't think would be a good fit due to price or features based on their needs. :)

    You could do something short like here are 3 products that have some similar features.

    ACMEsoft. However, they're about $100/mo more for features similar to ours and they don't have X, Y, Z and you won't get a dedicated rep like you'll get working with me.

    1. 1

      Sure! It's definitely a good strategy also for the general landing page of our website. The only issue is that we probably have sort of 200 players in our field... you know, Social Media Tools ... it's a crowded industry!

      1. 1

        Wow, that's a lot of competition / options. Also, some times organizations ask this because it's policy that they must get multiple bids. If they already prefer you and love your product, then you can just give them the names expensive or terrible featured competitors they'll look - take some notes and note the price and that's that. Good luck with your venture!

  15. 2

    Your product can't fit every customers.
    When they ask you about your competitor, if you see it wont be a good fit for you. Don't lie to them and say your competitor is better suit for them

    1. 1

      Sure, you cannot promise miracles and then fall short in expectations, that would be a disaster for the word of mouth.
      In this specific case I am pretty sure that we are a very good match for the client, still I have to provide some "good alternatives" ... probably it's just part of the procurement bureaucracy really!

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