How to outcompete your competition (by pitching their product)
I was just 19 years old, doing pretty good selling financial services. And I have this one potential client who's a real big whale: a guy who wants to invest several million Euros.
The challenge: this guy is a professional buyer. His job is traveling around Europe to find locations to open new retail stores for one of Europe's largest retail chains.
This guy knows how to pitch, negotiate, research, sell and buy. And he tells me straight to my face that he'd be talking to my competitors as well.
How can I get him to invest with me?
I'm telling you this story because it contains a valuable business strategy for startups to outcompete their competition. I was a young kid competing against banks and huge financial institutions.
It got me thinking:
What will my competitors tell my prospect? How will they pitch him?
Curiosity and competitiveness get the better of me, and I decide to find it out.
That day I walk into several banks and lay out my case - pretending to be in the same financial situation as my prospect. I want to know how these banks will advise him to invest his money, and how they'll pitch him their offers.
I get three good things out of this:
- I do a lot of the work for my client of schlepping to different banks and going through their consultations and collecting their documents, brochures and proposals. That alone will buy me some goodwill.
- I get a great education about their products and sales tactics, and deepen my knowledge of the marketplace in a very short amount of time. I also see that many of these financial institutions recommended certain financial products more for their own benefit than for that of the client.
- After every consultation, I get increasingly confident that I'll win this prospect, because all of these bankers have a really lousy sales pitch and mediocre offers.
After all this, I call my prospect: "Listen, I've some pretty amazing information for you, let's set up a meeting, I know that you haven't had a chance yet to do your research, but let's set up a meeting, I want to quickly chat for 30 minutes, I'll drop by your office." (Notice I'm not just asking for an appointment, I really sell him on seeing me asap.)
In his office, I just plainly tell him what I did, how I went to all these banks and financial institutions and pretended to be in his financial situation.
He burst out in laughter, asking: "You're kidding, right?"
I pull out my stack of brochures and proposals and look him straight in the eyes: "Does this look like a joke?!"
His laughter gets louder.
Steli: "Seriously, let's go through this, I just want to save you some time. Here's what this bank said. They recommended this product, here's how it works, here's why I think they recommend it. What do you think about this, are you interested?"
Prospect: "No way."
I threw these papers away. Literally through the room on the floor of his office. (A little well-timed drama can help you in the game of sales).
We go through the offers of all these financial institutions. Finally, I tell him: "You know what? Here is what I would tell you to do." And with that, I go into my pitch.
Afterwards, he leans forward and says: "You know what? Nobody has ever given me this kind of a pitch. I don't need to see the competition. I don't need to do any more research. I totally get it. Let's do business together, I want to invest with you."
That's how I closed my first seven figure deal.
So what's the lesson in this sales story?
Apart from mustering up the courage to be a bit theatrical and actually have some fun when you're going after deals?
If you don't go out and become a customer of your competitors... your prospects eventually will be.
Go out in the marketplace. Become a hot prospect. Have your competitors pitch and pursue you. Maybe even buy their products, really get educated on what the marketplace has to offer so that you can better serve your customers.
Know when you're the right fit for a prospect, and when to recommend someone else.