Part of critiquing your competitors is to understand how exactly you are differentiated from them. If the products and services we sell are exactly the same as the competitors, and we market them in exactly the same way, then the only differentiator we have is price. This is dangerous ground, particularly if our competitors are bigger and more resourceful than us. There are always ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors, some examples might be:
Speed of service (you develop your product or service faster than your competitors)
Speed of delivery (you deliver your product or service faster than your competitors)
Quality of product or service (your quality is superior to your competitors)
Packaging (how you package your product, and how your service is viewed).
Superior customer service (your levels of customer service are visibly higher than your competitors).
Augmented value (what the customer receives over and above what they purchased (free CD, e-book or extended warranty)
You must think about this area as there are many ways to develop your competitive advantage, and you need to know what these are because you will use these at a particular time when you are pitching to your prospect.
On the best and most effective ways to find out that your competitors do what we call ‘mystery shopping’. Mystery shopping is where you or someone else on your behalf of you pose as a potential customer. You either telephone the competitor or visit them if they have premises.
There are a number of generic questions that you can ask them, these are typically;
Current pricing, and any pricing concessions (bulk discount for example)
Customer service levels (your perception of their phone manner is a good guide)
Product or service range (what is the depth of their product or service offering)
Product or service knowledge (ask them all kinds of questions to test this)
New products or services (ask them what other products or services they have on the drawing board)
Other general questions that would elicit information (good background questions to find out more about them)
Telephone calls to competitors:
If you're calling over the phone then you can have a script already laid out in terms of the things you need to find out. Be careful here not to sound like you are conducting a survey on them, they may pick this up and in the call abruptly. Just be yourself pretending to be a customer and catch all the information that you need. One thing to remember here is always try to call from a number that can remove caller ID.
When you or a friend visit the competitor's premises you would need to commit your script to memory. I don't think you would last too long in competitor’s premises if you're going around with a clipboard asking all the questions that we are suggesting here! Again be yourself, ask questions and find the information that you want.
Which competitors should you call on, well most certainly the ones that you identify with the prospect(s) that you would be calling on? You do not have time to telephone or visit every single competitor; just the ones that you know are competing with you for this prospect's business. It would not be too difficult to establish this before you meet with the prospect, in fact, if you've done your research you would know this already.
You must know your competitor's strengths and weaknesses and know clearly what your competitive advantages are. These areas will be discussed and debated when you sit in front of your prospects and pitch for their business, and you must know exactly when to discuss this!
See also the S.A.S.C.O. selling approach.