So I had a call with a client this week that is going up against some of the biggest companies in the country, if not the world, with his 40-person startup, and it got me thinking about a topic we haven’t covered in a while: Defeating the 800 lb. gorilla.
Now, this can be done. Sales Result is a less than 10 person sales consulting company and we’ve worked with half a billion, a billion dollar companies, and even Google by beating out major consulting players. It can be done.
Pop culture, at least here in Seattle and the Bay Area, idolizes the scrappy little startups like in the show Silicon Valley, but these companies have to be obsessed with beating the big boys to grow and get the valuation they’re looking for.
If you want to take on the monster players in your space, there are tried and true steps you can take to put your solution on the map. Here are 4 steps that Sales Result recommends to many of our clients who compete against their 800 lb. gorilla.
The gorilla is winning the majority of the business today; the established player has an operation that is working for the market and making it very difficult for you to get a foothold. The gorilla is setting the rules of the game, they have the marketing cover, they have the snazzy presentations and maybe some X-factor. Ok, that’s the nice version. Here’s the truth:
- They have creditability and references
- They have a whole selling system around their solution
- They have more resources than you do
So, how do you win?
Step 1: Believe you can win.
If you don’t believe you can win, you’re dead. How in the world are you supposed to convince your prospect to choose you if YOU wouldn’t even choose you. Now, if you think you believe you can win, you would choose your product, and you have a fire in your belly to make it happen, now you have a chance.
This takes a LOT of work – just believing can take work, but actually winning takes a whole lot more.
Think about this, if you’re trying to catch Moby Dick with a 3-year old’s pink fishing rod and a marshmallow for bait, you’re not really trying to win, you’re just setting yourself up to lose. You can tell your boss that you tried, but you knew you were going to lose. If you’re not investing time and resources into making the contacts, building the messaging, and working harder and smarter than the gorillas, it’s just not going to work.
Steve Prefontaine was a very talented runner who set all kinds of records despite a lack of physical gifts one would expect for such accomplishments. One of my favorite quotes of his reads “Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.” That’s the type of guts and grit it takes to beat the 800 lb. gorilla.
Step 2: Understand the gorilla
They must do something well, you need to understand what that is.
- Is it just that they were first to market?
- Do they just have great marketing and name recognition?
- Maybe they bought up the competition and silenced alternatives for a while.
- And of course, maybe they have a great product.
Here’s a bigger question – where do they win? WHY do they win? There’s a great book called the Discipline of Market Leaders that says that you can win in a market with one of three messages: Price, Features, or Intimacy. Where does your gorilla sit?
Luckily, you should be nimble enough as “not-a-gorilla”, to position yourself in a different category than your competition.
- If they have more features, maybe you compete on price. Not just because you’re forced into it, but because your prospect is paying too much for features they won’t use.
- If they’re really cheap to buy market share, maybe you can compete on intimacy because your product needs less support, you have a better support team, or they can call you directly morning or night to help solve their problem.
- If they have a close relationship and easy-to-use product, they may have a leg up on the intimacy track, but with the right price or critical feature, you still have a shot.
That doesn’t mean you need to shoot every shot you get. In fact, if your gorilla has already set up the rules of the game, and you can’t change the rules, walk away. This is similar to what Sales Result preaches on procurement strategy, if you can’t help write the RFP, you already lost. Same goes for many deals against gorillas – if they are setting the requirements for the customer, you know they are setting requirements that only benefit them. You need to get in there and set requirements that work for you.
This leads into understanding their weaknesses, and how to leverage them so that you can win.
In my experience, gorillas tend to be slow, expensive, limited out of the box, they can’t change direction with the market, and are often trying to steer the market rather than fulfill a demand.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you done a Go-to-Market assessment?
- Have you done a deep dive of the Competition?
- Have you talked to prospects and clients?
- Have you gone against them, got your nose bloodied?
- What have you learned, do you have a solution that can win?
There’s a lot that goes into understanding the gorilla, and what you may need to do to position yourself to beat it, the next step is discipline.
Step 3: The Solution is Discipline
Discipline has to be applied at all stages of competing with the 800 lb. gorilla.
You need to know when to engage, what to say, how to shape the buyer’s expectations, when to walk away, and more. In this section, we talk about the building foundation for having the tools to effectively have this discipline. Let’s start with messaging.
Gorillas are confident in their messaging, but you need to be even more confident in yours. This takes discipline and dedication to learning. The standard 5 points you learned during orientation are not going to cut it – you need to understand your messaging and how it resonates with the market inside-and-out. You need a great sales playbook.
A great sales playbook provides the structure, messaging and tools to allow sales groups to be nimble – a key gorilla killer. Sorry Peta. We need to be disciplined to organization-wide messages that work, when we get too creative off the cuff we get ourselves in trouble. Let me ask you a few questions:
- Do you have a solid, coherent sales playbook that outlines innovative messaging?
- Are your messages tailored to your personas? The CEO and accountant have different needs after all.
- Do you know the top 8-10 objections you get, and how to respond? Maybe you’re special, but does everybody on your team?
- Can you talk about how your product solves business problems that save time? What about saving money? Reducing risk? Have you thought about it that way before?
What about sales process. If you’re going up against the 800 pound gorilla, you’re going to need the right sales process, and it’s probably not a one-call close. Chances are, you’re going to go up against this gorilla again and again, so it needs to be repeatable, and it needs to work.
- Is your sales process mapped to your CRM in a way that helps move the deal forward?
- Do you have clear entry and exit criteria for each stage, so everybody knows where the deal stands?
- Are account mangers, business development, and gorilla killers using the same process? They’re probably different…
Last but not least here on discipline, is account planning. For larger accounts, and accounts you’re competing with a gorilla on, the account strategy is critical. Coaching the prospect early in the deal about the benefits of your product, and why that matters, is an important tactic reflecting your gorilla-killing strategy. This takes discipline, organization, completeness of messaging, and dedication to completing the task at hand.
This might be a topic for another day, but addressing the right people for teams taking on giants does warrant discussion – are you one of them? If you don’t believe in the product, if you wouldn’t buy it over the gorilla solution, if you’re not willing to put the work in to understand the market and landscape – get out. Go do something else. I’m sure you’re a nice person, but you’re fooling yourself if you think you’re going to build success by “winging it”.
If you need to beat an 800 pound gorilla and don't know how, contact Sales Result for a free consultation to discuss strategy and tactics to beat the gorilla in your market.
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