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Two Sides to the Sales Game

November 13, 2017
Author: Duncan Ashford

Sales is a team-game, and no game is ever won through offensive strategies alone. Defensive moves are as important to winning as offensive moves. The reality is, the competition wants to win as much as you (where would be the fun if they didn’t?) and you can be sure they are going to try to identify and attack you where you are weakest. It could be your brand, your pricing, solutions, or track record, so don’t get caught napping and leave the door open to your competitors.  

Used proactively, countertactics can greatly mitigate the chances of being out-sold in this way. The first task is to clearly understand both your strengths and weaknesses (and not generically, but specific to the client and deal being pursued). You then must identify your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. Only then can you determine what strategies to employ.  

If you have a significant, differentiating strength in an area that’s important to your client, then clearly you need inflate it as much as possible. If you’ve got it, flaunt it! Amplify your strength, but not by simply proclaiming how great you are, but by reinforcing the huge value the client will receive as a result. If your strength is in an area that the client deems only partially important, then endeavor to inflate that need – impress upon the client that they should prioritize that particular buying criteria.  

Similarly, remember your competitor will be trying to deflate your strength – which brings us to the three recommended countertactic strategies:

Deflate:  If you believe your competitor has a significant strength in one area – for example they are touting that their solution offers greater functionality in a certain component -  then try to deflate the importance of this area to the client. Change the decision criteria, so the area where you are weaker than your competitor becomes less important to the client. 

Expose: If you know the competitor lacks functionality on an important decision criterion, then expose the importance of this in the client’s eyes. It goes without saying that we should never directly attack a competitor, but we can expose a weakness by raising our strengths. Elevate the importance - and therefore scrutiny - of the functionality and get the client to dig in. They will find a weakness in the competitor and a strength in your proposal.

Trap:  If you believe your competitor holds better intel on you and may be using this to your detriment, try to pre-empt it. Trap them by anticipating what they will say about you and pre-condition your client’s thinking, so that when your competitor attempts to lead them down a certain path, it has no impact. It is highly likely you will come across competitors that leverage negative selling in this way but be careful and consider pre-conditioning. It is entirely possible to negate its effect.  

One word of caution: countertactics should not be employed without comprehensive planning, thorough intelligence gathering and careful strategizing. Crafting the right response and identifying how, when - and to whom - to deliver it requires subtlety, finesse and absolute diplomacy.   

General Sun Tzu (military strategist and author of the acclaimed ‘Art of War’) famously said, “The key to victory is not defeating the enemy, but in defeating the enemy’s strategy, for therein lies their vulnerability.” Every salesperson goes to war with a sword for offense. But you cannot go to war without a defense — you need a shield as well. Deploy countertactics as part of your sales plan and help your opponents lose; rather than just hoping that you will win. 


Personal Challenge:  On your next pursuit, take time to deliberately and systematically focus on the area of countertactics. Leverage all of the information you have carefully gathered on your – and your competitors’ – strengths and weaknesses. Consider the strategies the competition may be employing to defeat you, and develop your countertactics to win the deal!

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