SWOT the Competition

Have you, or any of your salespeople, ever been blindsided by a prospect that mentions something about a competitor’s product or service that you knew nothing about? Just when you thought the sale was going so well and there you are, standing with egg dripping from your face.

Don’t let this happen to your salespeople. Give them the tools they need to SWOT their competitors.

Competitive SWOT Analysis
Whether you operate in a broad marketplace with many competitors or in a market where you consistently compete against one competitor over and over again (like Coca Cola versus Pepsi in the soft drink market, or Canon versus Xerox in the copier market), it is wise to conduct a thorough competitive analysis.

This requires a complete evaluation of what is being offered by the competition. Whenever possible a feature-by-feature analysis should be done along with a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) of the situation.

When you’re working on a particular sale, a thorough competitive analysis requires that you also know the competing sales team and their relationship with the prospect as well.

Your SWOT analysis, whether done for your overall market, a particular territory, or specific sale, should include information on the following.

Strengths: What are the major strengths that you and your company offer the marketplace or a particular prospect?

Weaknesses: Where are you vulnerable? This is for your own internal use so be honest with your appraisal.

Opportunities: What are some of the things you can take advantage of and lever yourself into a better position either in the marketplace or in relationship to a particular sale.

Threats: What do you have to watch out for? What do you need to be aware of so you don’t get blindsided in the marketplace or in a particular sale.

When I refer to a feature-by-feature analysis or competitive feature checklist, I’m not referring to a list that is given to the prospect. Such lists invariably favour the vendor who provides the checklist.

On the surface, vendor-supplied checklists appear to be very logical and practical. They allow the prospect to systematically compare features and benefits in a sensible, easy-to-read way. Unfortunately, while prospects like to have these checklists, such checklists can be misleading when the product or service is complex or continually evolving.

The truth of the matter is that checklists that are given to prospects will always be misleading. What vendor in their right mind would give a prospect a checklist that clearly showed a competitor’s product as being superior to their own?

The competitive feature checklist that I’m referring to is an internal, highly objective checklist for your own use only. Any checklist you develop should clearly uncover your strengths and weaknesses so you can plan your sales strategy appropriately.

Getting the Job Done
The sales manager doesn’t necessarily need to be the person who does the SWOT analysis. Often the people who are closest to the problem"”the salespeople"”are best suited to get the job done. As a minimum, they can be excellent information collectors, picking up gems of information here and there as they go about their daily routine.

Why not make it an agenda item at your weekly sales meeting to collect any new competitive intelligence and start building a file for each of your major competitors.

Sources of Information
One of the most obvious sources of competitive information is the Internet. If your competitor is a publicly traded company, buy a share so you receive all the latest shareholder information.

Collect advertisements, get debriefed on lost sales to see what the price difference was, ask your customers for impressions, etc. Dig, dig, dig, and put all your findings into one place for distilling into a formal SWOT report.

Don’t just dig up the dirt; dig up the good stuff as well. This is the important stuff that keeps you from being blindsided by the prospect that tries to catch you off guard.

Using Your SWOT
Understanding your competition’s strengths and being able to offset or counter them is a key part to success in highly competitive markets.

Understanding your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses allows you to develop a strong differential competitive advantage (DCA) statement that can be used to differentiate yourself from your competition.

Use the SWOT analysis to stay ahead of your game and ahead of your competition.

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