You may have better products or services than the competition. You may have better service and support, but the battle to win over competitor key accounts is never easy.

Frustratingly, even when your competitor messes up, you may still not get a chance.

We discuss the key hurdles to be overcome and suggest some potential ways forward. Analysis, targeting and content are at the core of the process. Effectively an Account Based Marketing (ABM) approach.

The Key Hurdles To Overcome

There are two key issues at play. The first is relationships, and the second is fear of change.

Your competitor will have built close personal relationships with key purchasing decision influencers. They will have input before orders are switched away from your competitor. Decisions have both an emotional and logical element.

Fear of change is a natural human emotion and it can also have an impact on overcoming the competition. A move away from something that is working, even if it is not ideal, tends to be avoided.

Sticking with a solution (or company) that has been in place for years does not tend to affect career prospects. Switching to another solution that ultimately fails tends to have a negative result.

Reaching key personnel is a major problem. If their current supplier satisfies minimal requirements with only the occasional minor hiccup, why should they talk to you? There are always more pressing issues to deal with.

Opportunities To Launch A Competitor Counterattack

There are four potential ways to break competitor stranglehold on a target account, they are:

  • Coverage
  • Complacency
  • Familiarity
  • Problems

Have the competitor salespeople built out their network to cover all the influencers in your target customer? Or have they left you a way in?

Your competitors account managers may have good relationships with most influencers but it is difficult to have positive relationships with them all. People leave, they move to other positions or gain promotion which presents an opportunity.

Competitors may get complacent (or lazy). They may receive repeat orders without much effort. They may not service the drive for new products or increased efficiency appropriately.

Over familiarity can deliver an opportunity to strike. People, including those who should know better, get bored with stability, safety and security. Crazy as it may seem, they chase the new and shiny object.

Finally, your competitor could have a problem. It could be a technical issue with a product. Or a manufacturing or material delivery issue causing a significant delivery delay. Whatever the cause, your target customer will be on the lookout for a solution and that could be your business. It gives you an initial way to prove your worth.

Chip Away At Your Competitors Position

The first step is to identify the key contacts within your key accounts. Then try to establish the nature of their relationship with your competitor. This can be a challenge and takes time. You need to diligently collect snippets of information from people within your organisation and your contact base. Then try to fit these pieces together to give you some idea of your competitors strengths and weaknesses.

With an understanding of people and relationships in place, the next step is to understand the information needs of your targets. Then you need to decide on the best way to reach them. That can be content, direct contact or events.

Raise your profile and credibility. It is often not possible to do that in person. So make every effort to deliver useful and relevant information. Deliver via the channels your targets are most likely to engage with.

While it is true most of the information you deliver will not reach its target, some will. Consistent delivery over the medium to long term is the key. All you are trying to do is raise awareness and credibility so you are in a position to strike.

If your competitor is not delivering the service they should you need to make your target aware there is another option.

Deliver information on market trends and new technologies and solutions. Particularly those where you are strong and your competitors are weak.

Is there is something your business delivers that is new and exciting (even if it is just a white paper) that could give you an opening to exploit? But make sure whatever you pitch is new and exciting. Focusing on ‘Me too’ products is unlikely to deliver any results and will often be counterproductive.

If possible, time information delivery to fit with your exhibition and events schedules.

To capitalise on any competitors problems, it is important to address the coverage issue (see above). Otherwise, you will be in no position to strike. Build some awareness and credibility first.

You should remain vigilant to pick up signs of a problem at an early stage. You can then start to plan how you can exploit the situation and offer support.

In many cases helping a target customer deal with a problem will be the first way in. Those contacts involved in the issue should become your first advocates within your target account. It gives you a foothold that you can then exploit.

The purpose of the above is to lower the risk (as perceived by your target customer) of making a switch from your competitor. Using relevant content to gain a foothold when you have no other way in builds awareness and credibility over time. Build on this with a more personal approach when the opportunity arises.

Account Based Marketing (ABM)

Deliver a drip, drip approach so that the target contact recognises you are there, you know your business and market and that you are a credible source. Any information that addresses your customers’ key questions or needs is helpful.

The approach described above is effectively an Account Based Marketing approach. But, the approach does not lend itself to the automation often associated with ABM. It requires human input, understanding and analysis at every stage.

The resources required will not make ABM a fit for every target account. Only those that could deliver significant ongoing sales, or major project wins.

In the battle to win over competitor key accounts, there is no quick fix. It requires a process, delivered month on month, that leaves you in a position to strike when the time is right. Sales must work closely with marketing to identify key personnel and satisfy their needs.

It is a long game ABM type approach that is resource-intensive. Before starting, it is important to ensure the effort involved will be worth it. Someone needs to rise above the ongoing clamour for new business and take a long term view.

Should you need to talk through how an ABM type process might work for you give us a call and we will be happy to help. We can help with strategy, planning, research and monitoring and content production.