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April 2, 2018

The Single Most Overlooked Step to Size Up Your Competition

Coors Light is the “coldest tasting beer in the world.” Not the coldest. The coldest tasting.

Long before “dilly dilly,” Coors and Bud have been going at it.

At a time when traditional beer sales were shrinking because craft and microbrew beers were gaining in popularity, Coors Light was losing market share.

Customer research told them that one thing consumers cared about was that their beer was cold.

Everybody wanted cold beer, but nobody was marketing to that desire because beer is served at the same temperature everywhere: fridge temperature.

So Coors asked, “What if we could market cold, that our beer is cold and gives that crisp beer taste and feeling?”

They invented “cold activation.”

Are you kidding me, they actually figured out how to market ‘cold’. That’s baller.

Aside from Coors Light winning ??this entrepreneur’s beer of choice??, what can we learn from them?

Why Market Research Isn’t Enough

When you’re the Visionary for your company, part of your job is to stitch together bits of information and position your company for the future.

You may do market research based on publicly available information (website, press releases, etc.) and then hammer out a SWOT analysis to figure out what the competition is up to and where they’re headed.

So what did you miss? Talking directly to your competition.

What Will You Hear When Your Competitor Pitches You?

While I’ve done this for every business I’ve built, it started back when I used to spin as a DJ.

I’d call up other DJs and ask them questions like: what kind of music do they spin, what makes them better, what kind of light system do they have, etc.

Figuring out what they were doing helped me know three things:

        1. What do I need to do at a minimum?
        2. What were they doing that didn’t matter to my customers?
        3. How I could make myself stand out, or position myself uniquely relative to them?

That’s the hustle.

Combine the academic research with the hustle and you’ve got vision.

You will notice distinct differences between what marketing said on the press releases and website content, versus what the salespeople say in the calls.

And here’s the key: the salespeople are your true competition.

Marketing is designed to get you into a conversation.

Salespeople then conduct those conversations behind closed doors.

If all you’re doing is market research on public information, you’ve lost the plot. You need to do market research on sales.

That’s right, you will have to get sold to, or go through your competitors’ sales processes.

Only by experiencing their whole sales pitch can you discover how they are going after, in a competitive situation, the same prospects as you.

You’ll be able to analyze their approach, which may not match their marketing, and find weaknesses that you can jump into.

How to Conduct Sales Research Calls

Large enterprises do this all the time—they call it secret shopping.

Entrepreneurs often fail to do sales research.

Yes, it can feel awkward. It may feel like it’s dirty, or cheating.

But here’s the truth of it: you have to gain this specific intelligence to get an edge.

Especially when you’re providing services, you have to know exactly what your competitors are saying, what they’re pitching.

So call them and find out.

1. Initial Contact. Pay attention to the first interaction.

As a prospect, take on the persona of one of your typical customers. (Get your story straight ahead of time.)

Listen to how your competitor goes through the first call and sets up a more in-depth meeting.

When I take that longer meeting, I ask them to call me on my conference line so I can record the call.

If they offer a phone number, just say, “Let’s use my dial-in.”

Then you can replay and analyze the call later.

Questions to ask yourself about the initial contact:

    • How do they react to your call?
    • Do they sell right away or seek to help?
    • Do they try to understand your problems and goals?
    • Do they start sending you documents?
    • Do they start quoting prices?
    • Do they look to schedule you?

2. First Meeting. Listen to their pitch in your first scheduled meeting.

Key questions here are: does it match what they say publicly?

What did you like about your experience, and what did you think was poorly done?

Did you feel listened to and satisfied at the end?

3. Follow-up Meeting. Analyze their follow-up or second step.

Did they even ask you to set a second meeting, or did they promise to follow up with you, or to send materials?

What was their second step?

How effective was it for selling you?

Your Gold Mine: What’s Missing

After you’ve done 10 or 20 of these, I am willing to bet (based on my experience) that you will see most of your competitors positioning themselves on the features and benefits of the services they provide.

Yawn. That is your chance to differentiate. You need to offer solutions.

Your client is looking for an outcome, not for info about the services you offer.

The sad fact is that most companies don’t do a great job of figuring out what problem their customers are trying to solve.

Most don’t even try to see if their service or product is actually a fit for the problem at hand!

Their “miss” spells opportunity for you.

Get in the mindset of your own customer.

Rank the things that are most important to you, in order.

There’s usually a gap between what your customer says they want and what your competitors say they do.

Find the gap. What are other companies not saying to you as a prospect?

Now map what you heard in those sales conversations to the outcome or solution your customers actually want.

What does your customer want to hear that they are not hearing?

This insight is the most valuable because it allows for you slide into this gap and position yourself there.

Finally, find out what’s good.

Take a look at your customer’s prioritized needs and ask yourself, “Which of my competitors is hitting number one?

Who is hitting number two? Who is hitting number three, number four?” How are they hitting those?

Differentiate Yourself, Create Opportunities, and Become The Most Respected In Your Field


Here’s What I Learned About My Competition

Before I started our newest division of Flow, which markets personal branding, I called 20 companies that make similar claims.

We had done market research on them so I had all of the information that’s publicly available.

But when I called them, it was fascinating to hear how they talked about their services.

Most first interactions were brutal. People were sending me PDFs of their sales packages without even finding out what I needed.

They started off pitching what they do without listening. This was common.

The few that were astute enough to listen first, asked the initial question, “So how can I help you?”

That’s their job: to understand my needs and tell me how they can help me.

That told me that most of my competition had untrained salespeople.

Only two out of the 20 spent time asking me questions and held their tongue about what they do.

Of those two, once we finally got into what they did, neither provided me an outcome or solution.

They provided inputs only. They said, “We do blog design, identity, and brand creation. We do content marketing. We do website design. We do, we do, we do.”

Not one of them positioned themselves to say how they will help me as the prospect.

I didn’t call wanting content marketing. Or logo design.

I wanted a solution: to become more influential.

By missing what I as the customer wanted, their package of services meant nothing, as opposed to tailoring their processes to create a product that will deliver the end result I want.

After this eye-opening research, when it came time to formulate our processes and our positioning for Flow, we focused on helping people scale their influence, because that is what they want. And that is not what my competition is offering.

Had I not listened to my competitors’ pitches, had I not asked them questions about other competitors to see how they repositioned their competition, I would have never known what is actually being said and where the opportunity was for us.

RELATED: Introducing Flow: A Modern Agency for Thought Leaders 

Why You Won’t Do This

Here’s the funny thing. I just told you how we positioned and packaged our services to deliver the real end result that our clients want.

When our competition reads this, they still won’t do it.

They won’t because it is awkward, and because they take pride in saying, “I came up with the strategy that we’re using.”

Who cares. Ego is the enemy.

When you know what your customer really wants and how weak your competitors’ pitches are, you will know how to position your business today and for the future.

Time to crack open an ice-cold beer and enjoy the ride.

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