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  • Jim Mcwhirter

3 Reasons to Talk to Competitive Accounts that Other Reps Say Will Never Change Vendors

Have you ever heard the advice below from another rep or colleague when you were at the early stages of targeted outreach to your big fish or dream accounts?

1. “I took a run at them years ago - don’t waste your time”

2. “They will never change – they love the incumbent and their rep”

3. “Those idiots don’t know what they are doing over there”

4. “They are all over the place, they can’t make a decision”

5. “They won’t change anything until Bob retires”

6. “There was an incident a long time ago and they just don’t like us”

I think you can get the general idea here!

We have seen or heard various forms of this misplaced advice (sometimes word-for-word) bestowed upon the account newbie on numerous occasions. Fortuitously, we have also seen it proven wrong again-and-again by growth minded sales professionals who approach the account with a fresh mindset using only relevant past data.

Although its tempting, under most circumstances, we would recommend not letting historic big account loss by other reps in your company bias, your efforts or initiative to target and win business now. A company’s business is not static and their incumbent relationships are not etched in stone. Basing your behaviour on blanket perceptions and statements like the above, may impact if and how you approach the account.

Below are three (of many) specific reasons to pursue accounts that were not successful in the past:

1. Your competition can do lots of really stupid stuff to piss off their customer.

Things change and you do not know if or when the competition is dropping the ball. Here are a few common examples:

· Fail to deliver on commitments;

· Misleading or misinforming the customer;

· Attitude – not listening or too aggressive;

· Change of key support personnel or sales rep;

· Badly managed situation(s);

· Unexpected or unreasonable price increase;

· Poor or inconsistent account and customer management;

Things are constantly changing. Account conditions created by these various omissions and neglects by your competition are very common and can happen quickly to impact the stability of the status quo. This can be caused by a single event or multiple incidents sometimes creating a domino effect. The results are cracks in the vendor relationship and their perceived value to the customer. This erosion of trust and commitment creates possible windows of opportunity to get your foot in the door in your biggest competitive accounts.

To catch these opportunities, you need to be actively engaged and building relevancy within your accounts. Incumbent dissatisfaction doesn’t mean they can or will switch vendors on a dime, but knowing you are there as a viable option can certainly tip the scales of change in your favour.

2. External triggers happen – Be proactive and not reactive when they do

Things are always changing. Much has been written on the importance of external trigger events for creating disruption opportunities within big fish competitive accounts. Therefore, despite what others in your company say - you are usually not wasting your time building relevancy in larger transaction accounts, even if they appear currently happy with the incumbent. When an external trigger event happens; do you want to be seen as an opportunist doing cold outreach or be positioned with a relevant solution and viable alternative.

Rule of thumb - Assume trigger events causing companies to revaluate their current state, will happen and be well positioned when they do. Don’t wait for them to occur.

Meet with the account prior to the trigger event so they know who you are and established some rapport. Take the time to learn what your prospect actually requires and build a relationship. Let them know how your company has helped other similar companies and share industry insights to create value before a trigger event occurs. This way, when it happens, you are already through the door and you can maximize the opportunity.

On a side note, (I have been on both sides of this), try explaining to your boss or executive management why one of your largest competitive target accounts switched vendors and you and your company were not even invited to the table. This is not a fun conversation. Trust me – they don’t want to hear that you didn’t engage the account because Mike in Major Accounts told you not to waste your time. (PS – Mike probably hasn’t landed a new account since 2005).

As the account rep, you only have so many “big fish” game changer accounts. Thus, your job is to let them know that you have a solution. Triggers can cause things to change quickly and when they do you want to be ahead of the game.

3. Proactivity wins - What matters is how you sell vs who you sell for

You have the ability to be the trigger event. In many instances winning the deal is more about how you sell then who you sell for.

When companies (or people) adopt a “we can’t win that account attitude”, it is often an easier pill to swallow then saying “we got out sold” by the competition”.

Multiple studies over the past 10 years– including Gardner-CEB have shown that the sales experience itself has a higher impact on customer loyalty then anything else, including company & brand recognition. Reps that offer a unique and valuable perspective on the market differentiate themselves and can flip the status quo.

The only way of ever finding out if the account is winnable (and when) is interaction and activity. It should be noted again that incumbent or market dissatisfaction, cannot always be flagged automatically in your CRM by front end software stacks. Therefore, you must build relationships and educate customers proactively if you want to win. If you're trying to sell (close a deal) with every single customer interaction in a larger account, you're not thinking collaboratively. Instead, focus on establishing trust and building authentic credibility with your prospective customers.

Just because someone else couldn’t win the sale in the past has no bearing on your ability to run an effective sales cycle and convince the customer to change now.


You can effectively be the trigger event. You can be the disrupter to the status quo. Think of yourself as a change agent. There could be many reasons why a customer chose not to select your company in the past. Many times, the competition just outsold the last person. In the end, its all speculation why they chose to go with your competitor. Please don’t let others bias your account target approach with a tainted brush. Don’t limit your options before you are even in the game!

If you hear any comments from your team that sound like the one at the top of this article, please take them with a grain of salt and do your own unbiased account due diligence. All contracts have a term and companies will start evaluating those terms and the value they are getting way before the end of the contract.

Keep the Momentum!

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