Every distributor has them: a high-potential account that is purchasing from a competitor and not from him.

Here is a proven technique to penetrate these kinds of accounts: Go around the competition, not through them.

This customer is probably not buying everything from your primary competitor. There likely is a handful of other suppliers selling items that you could supply. Focus on those. Find items that are being purchased from someone other than the main vendor, and present your company’s options on those. Often these could be small quantities of relatively inconspicuous items that don’t appear on the radar screen of your competitor.

When you put together attractive programs and proposals for those kinds of items, you don’t threaten your customer’s relationship with your competitor, and you begin to show them the value of a relationship with you.

Be careful to keep a relatively low profile in the account. You don’t want to draw your competitor’s attention. At first, as you try to pick off some of these miscellaneous items, you are very vulnerable to your primary competitor finding and squashing you. As time goes by and you’re successful at becoming the supplier of a number of miscellaneous items, you’ll gain power and position within the account, and in so doing, build some defenses against the ire of your competitor. You’re always safer if your competitor underestimates your activity and success within an account. So, at least until you’re well established, be as discreet and inconspicuous as possible.

Here’s a number of ways to implement this strategy of “going around the competition.”

1. Find some area within the customer’s business where the competition is very weak. For example, when I was selling hospital supplies, I discovered that one of my major competitors was very strong in the operating room. The competitor had a wide range of products, well-respected lines, a history of being active and interested in that area of the hospital, and significant expertise in operating room procedures and problems. So, I didn’t bother with the operating room, and spent my time in respiratory therapy and ICU. The competition never bothered to visit those departments. I went around my competition by finding a department on which to focus where the competition was weak.

2. Find someone who doesn’t like dealing with your competitor. This may take longer. In a large organization, there are often dozens of decision-makers and influencers. It’s likely that one or more of them may not like dealing with your competitor. Maybe personalities clashed sometime in the past, or someone felt slighted or treated rudely. Regardless, someone inside that organization may not be your competitor’s biggest fan. Find that person(s).

But don’t be too quick to bet your future on that relationship. Before you begin to work with that person, access that person’s political power within the account. It may be that the champion you selected is viewed as a perpetual complainer who never has any constructive opinions to offer. If that’s the case, you’ll hurt yourself in the account by aligning with him/her.

If you come to the conclusion that your champion is a strong and respected player within the account, then focus on building a relationship and equipping that person to pursue his or her own agenda with your assistance.

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.”