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4 Ways to Respond When a Buyer Says, 'We Already Work With Your Competitor'

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Written by Erica Schultz
Chief Marketing Officer, RAIN Group

Here's the situation: You get an introductory conversation with a great buyer—someone who fits your target profile to a T.

Not long into the conversation, however, the buyer says, "We already work with one of your competitors to do this."

What do you do next?

If you're like many sellers, you politely say, "Thanks for your time. I understand, and it was nice meeting you." And you move on to the next buyer, marking this one as a "no" because they're not going to buy right away.

Stop right there.

If you are walking away from buyers because they're already working with a competitor, you are missing out on excellent sales opportunities.

Unseating a Competitor

It's a good sign when a prospect says they're already working with a competitor because it means they have the need, they see the value, and they outsource this type of work. All that's left is to convince them that you are the one for the job.

What can you do to start building the relationship and plant the seed to make a switch? Here are a few ways to respond: 

  1. "Okay. You know, I don't hear that very often. I'm curious, what do you think makes the relationship work so well?"

    This is a non-salesy, non-threatening way to get key insight into the client relationship. It gets the buyer talking. And based on what they say, you can probe further and uncover areas where there may be issues with the current provider or holes in the current solution set that you can fill.

  2. "It sounds like things are pretty good. Is there anything that you think could or should be better?"

    By asking this question you get the prospect thinking about change and thinking about areas where the current provider may not be meeting expectations. It also gets them thinking about what it might be like if they did switch.

  3. "How do they...? Do they...? What happens when they...?"

    Ask questions here where you are likely to be strong compared to competitors. For us, for example, it might be, "How do they ensure that the training is remembered months after core programs deliver?" Or "What research underpins their method and advice?" Or "How do they ensure the training transfers to the job?" Or "What does the 3 year curriculum look like for each sales role to unleash their sales potential?"

    Do this right, and with a little subtlety, and you can cast doubt on the buyer's perception they are being served as well as they should be.

    It's also possible, even likely for most sellers, that you have an offering that the buyer is not buying from you or the competitor, but should be. Find out what else they might need, and focus there.

  4. "When it comes to <important topic>, I know it's always helpful to get another set of eyes looking at it. Would you be open to sending along your <process flow, strategic plan, priorities document, etc.>? I'd be happy to have a look and provide feedback."

    When you offer to be a second set of eyes in an important area, it helps deepen the relationship and allows them to experience firsthand what it's like to work with you.

    The idea is to start building the relationship because eventually most buyers are going to look to switch providers at some point. By building the relationship early, you give yourself the inside track and you'll be the first one they turn to when they decide it's time to switch.

The next time a buyer says, "We already work with someone on this," don't give up. Instead, work to build the relationship. When you do over the long term, you'll win your fair share of new business when the buyer looks to switch.

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Topics: Sales Conversations