There have been several times in my career in B2B sales, a company in which I am still engaged, where I made a very serious mistake. This forced me to operate on my back foot, to defend, instead of selling on my front foot, to play the offensive and to force my competitors to defend what was already theirs. The lessons of military history strongly suggest that defense is easier than attack, which seems to be true in attempts at competitive displacement; it can be extremely difficult to eject your competitor from a customer.
However, my experience is that defending your client against external threats is made much more difficult when your competitor gets a foothold in a sister company or the parent company and decides to regroup the entire conglomerate. In these cases, dealing with the highest officials in the organization can cause you far greater problems in related companies.
The mistake I’ve made several times is not to sue companies related to a client, to play the defense by trying to avoid a bad result.
Land and enlarge
When people talk about land strategy and expansion, they are referring to the idea of winning a small part of the client's business and identifying new opportunities that will increase your portfolio share. Once you have contacts and contracts, you have control of the location. You meet your contacts, and since you are in your client's accounts payable system, and they are in your billing system, it is easier to grow the business because you have removed many barriers.
Once you work with your client, you are family, even if it is only a second degree cousin, removed twice; you are still invited to the annual family picnic, even if, like your uncle Enrico, you are no longer invited to Thanksgiving.
For some reason, the idea of land and expansion tends to end at the edge of the parking lot in the building where the people you serve work. It is a myopic view of expansion, even if the portfolio sharing available to you is greater than most accounts in your territory. By not pursuing a broader concept of "expansion", you expose yourself to displacement.
Who you don't know
Who you don't know can hurt you. In all cases where I have gained a location or a division of a large global company, the threat that appeared later was motivated by someone within their company at a remote location. What was also true was that whenever there was a threat, no one on my team knew the person sponsoring the opportunity who would have moved my business.
It is incredibly easy for a person to decide to buy from a person who creates value for them while deleting a person they have never met, who does not know them not and has never created value for it. This is true even when you create enormous value for the group you serve. It’s a clinical decision, driven by efficiency, cost savings and streamlined operations. It is rare that the value proposition is not of great value to the local group that you work with every day.
How to play defense
The only way I could keep clients threatened was to always work on building strong relationships and communicating consistently while being proactive in creating new value for the people I worked with. Part of this strategy was to teach my contacts how to defend the threat that would surely have displaced my business, their preferred partner.
This truth is the reason why I believe that relationship selling is not and will never be dead. The only people who would say such a thing would be those who did not have the relationships who created such a preference for working with them that they could not imagine a group of people fighting to keep their supplier, even if they had to spend capital policy to do so.
Front foot sale
On several occasions, I have worked to expand well beyond the only division that my team served by asking my contacts to make presentations and vouch for our results to resume additional games of their business. In these cases, I was able to displace the competitors by placing myself in front of the right people because I had relationships with people they trusted.
Where my competitors' strategy was always efficiency, my strategy was always better results. Ultimately, what corporate offices want is efficiency and cost savings; what people on the ground want is better results, a partner who cares and someone who will help them get what they want.
In situations where you may be threatened, it is better to play the offensive than to try to play the defense when people who do not know you will decide whether to withdraw you or not. Even if you fail to expand your footprint, you are known.
There is never a reason not to maintain the relationships that will allow you to maintain your business. There is also never any reason not to operate on your front foot.
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