It’s not easy to gain entry into accounts controlled by competitors. But it can be done. Here’s the second major strategy for penetrating the impenetrable account:

Make a persistent, strong appeal to be the secondary supplier for that account.

Here’s one important thing you know about this customer: They are loyal to their key supplier. That indicates a philosophical position this customer holds – these are people who believe in loyalty to suppliers who do a good job in their account. That’s why they continue to buy from your competitor.

So, use that position to your own advantage. Make a consistent appeal to the customer that they ought to have the same kind of relationship with a back-up supplier – you. You’re not implying criticism of the primary supplier, but things that are out of their control can happen, and the continuity of supplies can be interrupted. In that case, it’s to the customer’s advantage to have a good relationship with a secondary supplier. That’s an argument that often resonates effectively within this kind of account. If they agree with that position, then it follows that they need to be doing some business with you in order to keep you interested and active within the account. And that should lead to a discussion of what you can be selling to them.

Both of these strategies require you to be persistent in visiting the account and staying visible to them, even in the face of little success or encouragement from them. Assuming that the potential of the account is worth the investment, this persistency may be your key strategy.

I was faced with this exact situation on more than one occasion. As I was venting my frustration over a particularly difficult account, my manager counseled me like this:

“The only thing you can count on,” he said, “is that things will change. We don’t know how, and we don’t know when, but we do know that things will change. Your job is to stay in front of the customer and position yourself to be the customer’s easiest, lowest risk choice when things finally do change with the competition.”

What great advice that turned out to be. The best example was a medium-sized account not far from my home. On my first call there, I met with the head of purchasing. After listening politely to my presentation, he said, “Young man, we already have too many vendors. We don’t want to add new ones; we want to eliminate some we already have. Secondly, we don’t know much about your company, but what we do know we don’t like. So, I’d advise you not to waste your time here.”

I considered that a real challenge.

So, about six weeks later, I returned with my strongest product. This was a product called suction tubing, which is a staple item in a hospital. Every hospital uses it in all sorts of ways and places throughout their operations. We had an exclusive with the country’s largest and best manufacturer of suction tubing, coupled with excellent pricing. He couldn’t say no to my deal on suction tubing.

Again, he listened patiently to my presentation. When I had finished, he said, “We don’t use any.” I looked through the open door of his office, and saw a supply cart in the hall outside, with suction tubing hanging from it. He was lying to me. I knew it, and he knew that I knew it.

“This really is going to be a challenge,” I thought to myself. As I reflected on the account, it became apparent that he was protecting a relationship with my arch competitor. I decided on two lines of attack: Find someone to sell to who wasn’t enamored with the competitor, and hang in there as an easy choice if, and when, the competitor stumbled.

That’s exactly what happened. I found one of the purchasing agents who was interested in what my company had to offer. When the competitor was backordered on an item, the customer turned to us. We were able to deliver. That eventually lead to our obtaining the contract for that item. And that opened the door, gave me a foothold in the account, and allowed me an opportunity to begin working within it.

Three years later, that account had become one of my best. I had penetrated it to a greater degree than any others. And, the head of purchasing that had previously so ardently protected the relationship with my competitor, now just as ardently protected the relationship with me.

That is what makes it all worthwhile. Almost always, those accounts that protect a relationship with your competitor will just as fervently protect the relationship with you when you become their primary supplier. The payoff is well worth the investment.

Dave Kahle is one of the world's leading sales authorities. He's written 12 books, presented in 47 states and eleven countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine, His book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, has been recognized by three international entities as "one of the five best English language business books.” Check out his latest book, The Heart of a Christian Sales Person.”