4 Steps To Effectively Handle Competitive Landmines

Competitive Landmine

Image Source: Sarah Pickering

Boom… You’re in the middle of a deal when your prospect asks about an area where you’re weak. A lot of people don’t handle this situation well, and come out of the meeting worried about the deal, scrambling to get the feature added to their roadmap. Often times, the source of this issue actually came from a competitor who planted the landmine that you just walked into. You can always tell if a competitor was the original source because:

  • The question comes out of nowhere
  • It’s a feature where one of your competitors is strong
  • The prospect asks the question in terms of a specific feature and not in terms of their business requirements
  • When you ask them “why” they’d actually need this feature, you get lots of “ums and ahs”, and a vague reference to something they might want to do, possibly, one day in the future

Mark Suster’s phenomenal blog post on  knowing your USP’s (Unique Selling Proposition) touches on this topic:

“It’s equally useful to know what your weaknesses are against your key competitors and honestly capturing those. You’ll need it so that you can work on “objection handling” when prospects naturally bring up these areas … Knowing how your competitors position their USPs against you is a very important part of winning”

What Mark doesn’t talk about though, is what typically happens from the Product point of view:

  • Sales comes out of the meeting, usually with a few battle scars from walking into the landmine
  • Sales jumps on a call with Product to tell them we are getting beat up by not having this feature in our product
  • Product team adds said feature to the roadmap/backlog (if it wasn’t already sitting on there anyway)
  • Competition learns you didn’t handle this landmine particular well, so they try to repeat this move in as many other deals as possible
  • Sales feels more heat, so puts even more pressure on Product team to deliver it
  • Product team now prioritizes it, and feature gets added
  • The competition then says your implementation is crappy… which it probably is. You just wanted a “marketing check box” so you could claim to have this feature anyway… you don’t really expect anyone to actually use it, and it wasn’t really what you cared about for this release – you just had to do it to keep sales happy
  • The competitor then usually moves on to a new landmine to use, and the cycle repeats

Mark Suster says handling this request needs to be part of your sales methodology, but let’s be clear – this cycle is not the fault of sales. This is another symptom of poor Product Management. Here are the four things your Product team should be doing in this type of scenario:

  1. Go Meet With The Prospect Directly – Get out of the office. Hear their concerns, and find an effective way to neutralize the issue. Some examples might include explaining how your product doesn’t need this feature because you have an alternative and better way of doing it, or how nobody actually uses this feature in reality and it’s nothing more than demo-ware because of X, Y and Z. Learn what is the most effective argument to handle this objection.
  2. Plant Some Landmines Of Your Own – After you have neutralized the issue, turn it around quickly by reinforcing your own USP’s. If your doing your job well, you should have hopefully been able to work out which competitor the initial landmine came from and you should know where they are weak, so you can place your own landmine accordingly. If you don’t know your competition – get studying. If you don’t know who planted the landmine, at a minimum you should definitely be reinforcing your USP’s. It is also much more effective if you can plant a landmine for your competitor that is related to an actual business requirement of the prospect. Most people don’t take this extra step – they pull out the same landmine for the same competitor all of the time. That’s why at the beginning of this article, I said that most prospects have no real clue on why they might actually need this feature, and that usually makes it fairly easy to neutralize. You will be significantly more effective if you can tie back your competitors weakness to a current pain point of the prospect.
  3. Evaluate The Real Importance Of This Feature – Don’t add the feature to your product just to get the marketing (or RFP) check box. That is how you build a crappy product. In fact, default to an assumption that says this feature should NOT be added to your roadmap (if it was relevant, you’d hear about it from your actual customers, and your prospect would have a real business requirement in mind for it). Always evaluate it with an open perspective, but just make sure you apply sound critical thinking before you blindly add it to your roadmap.
  4. Educate Your Field – Once you know how to handle the objection and turn it the conversation around to your USP’s, then make it repeatable. Roll this information out to your field so that the sales team can handle this complaint themselves in the future. That is why I said this issue is not the fault of sales – they first have to be enabled to deal with the situation. Also explain to Sales whether this feature is coming in your roadmap or not, and if not, why not.

Often times, a landmine is to serve two purposes: to get the prospect questioning you as a valid selection, and to keep your product team busy on something that doesn’t really matter. You can see in the typical cycle above, your competitor can waste a lot of your cycles working on what might be a completely irrelevant feature. So make sure you don’t fall into the trap of having your roadmap indirectly controlled by your competitor. Know your USP’s, your customers, your competitors, your market, and your vision – and make strategic choices about your roadmap.

I’d love to get your feedback in the comments on any other tips or tricks you might have in handling (or placing) competitive landmines too.

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