If another vendor has gotten to the account first, you’ll need to play a defensive game.

When you’re selling to businesses, it’s very common to find customers who are already talking with your competitors. That’s bad news for you, because your competitor probably has the “inside track” just because they got there first.

If you’re going to compete for that customer, you’ll need to adapt your message and sales approach so that it gradually “locks out” the competitor.

To do this, you’ll first need to diagnose exactly where your competition stands, according to Linda Richardson author of the New York Times best seller Perfect Selling and founder of the sales training firm Richardson. As part of your conversations with the customer, obtain answers to the following questions:

  • Who have you already met with?
  • Have they sold anything to you so far?
  • What value did they provide?
  • What do you see as their strengths and weaknesses?
  • How satisfied are you?
  • What’s your perception of their quality?
  • What decision-makers or influencers sponsored them?
  • Who are their allies?
  • Who doesn’t care for them?
  • How do you, personally, feel about them?
  • In your view, how do we compare?

Once you’ve gotten the answers, you can begin building an action plan. You’ll have a list of people whom you’ll need to convince, and a good idea of where your offering will need to seem stronger than your competitor’s offering.

By the way, if your customer contact isn’t willing to answer these questions, you’ve probably already lost the sale.