“How do I sell to an account that is firmly in the hands of a competitor — a difficult key account?”

In one form or another, I hear that question at almost every sales seminar I teach. It’s a great question, reflecting one of the most perplexing and frustrating situations every sales person faces. If you haven’t yet been faced with this problem, be patient, you will soon be.

Here’s how this usually develops: You’ve called on a high-potential account a number of times, but can’t seem to get anywhere. The more time you spend in the account, the more apparent it is that one or more of your competitors are deeply ingrained as suppliers to that account. You may even have had someone say to you, “We do all our business with XYZ competitor.”

And that leaves you on the outside looking in. If the account has some real potential, you want to be seriously considered as a supplier. But if looks like this account is not really interested in you - not because of you or your company, but because of a previously established strong relationship with a competitor.

When trying to earn this business, don’t vent your frustration by speaking poorly about the competition. And don’t attack the competitor’s products, company, practices or sales people. Someone who works for this customer — or more likely, several people who work there - chose to do business with that competitor. They have chosen to buy the competitor’s products, have developed a close working relationship, and may be good friends outside of work. When you speak badly about the competition, you insult all those decisions made by the customer to work with that particular competitor. Trying to penetrate an account by insulting your customer’s judgment is not a particularly effective technique.

Realize, also, that you have only a tiny glimpse of what your competitor is really like. You may have found some evidence in another account of their ineptness, or what you perceive as unethical behavior. And on the basis of this tiny experience, you’re ready to launch a holy crusade to reveal their deep flaws and expose the risks of doing business with them.

That is almost never the truth. Almost always, your competitor is a company with the products, ethics, business systems, people and goals that are very similar to yours. Very few companies survive in this highly competitive market place if they have shoddy products, lax business morals, incompetent people, and poor operating systems. When you criticize these things in your competitor, you show yourself to be ignorant and inexperienced.

In my next tips, I’ll explain proven methods to winning this new business.

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.”