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How to handle an account in the hands of a competitor

Question and Answer for Sales People

By Dave Kahle

Q. I have been receiving your monthly e mail and have read several of your books. I work as an account manager for a large industrial supplier. I love your strategies and ideas but I haven’t found a specific way to overcome my most recent obstacle. I have been moved around from several successful territories, and now find myself trying to sell to companies that are lead by close friends of my main competitor. This competitor is a former employee of our company and is bound and bent to destroy us. How can I get between him and these contacts that are, in some cases, close friends with him for 20+ years? You guys are in my opinion THE best in the business! You must have an answer to this.

A. You certainly have a difficult challenge, but not one that is insurmountable.

The fact that your competitor is bent on destroying you probably works in your favor. It means that he is likely to make decisions based on emotions, instead of based on good business principles. Sooner or later this will catch up with him, and the customers will recognize his motivation. Stay above all of that.

Let me start first with what NOT to do.

1. Don’t bad mouth your competitor, don’t criticize him or even talk about him. The focus of your communication should be on the customer’s issues and your company’s ability to help them. Your attitude should be, particularly in this situation, that the competition is irrelevant. Now, we both know that not to be the case. However, the point is that you don’t want to initiate a conversation with the customer about your competitor.

2. Don’t threaten the existing relationships by trying to take business away from the competitor. At this point, you will lose all of those attempts to gain business at the competitor’s expense. You’ll make everyone defensive and uncomfortable. Remember, he’s had long-standing relationships in these accounts, and is far stronger than you are.

Having established that, what should you do?

1. Start with a long-term perspective. You are not going to change anything overnight. So, you must view this challenge as something that may take years to turn around.

2. Remember that everything changes, and things change more rapidly today than ever before. Be particularly on the lookout for changes in personnel. If a new department manager or purchasing agent is hired, it is possible that person does not have an existing relationship with your competitor. Give those people priority, and try to establish positive relationships with those new people.

3. Don’t compete. What I mean by that is to find a product that is purchased in small volumes and is beneath everybody’s radar screen. It’s so inconspicuous that no one much cares from who they buy it. Actually, the more inconspicuous the product is, the better off you are. Pick off that product in any way that you can. Use it to become a legitimate vendor in that account.

That now gives you a story to tell to others in the account, a legitimate status in that account, and a history of transactions. Do it again. Find another small and inconspicuous product to pick off. Build a small base of business by searching out and becoming the supplier for those products in which no other vendor is too interested. As you build a base business, use the relationships developed in that process to leverage and expand your relationships. At some point, you’ll be thought of as a substantial vendor.

At that point, given your history in this account, and the change in personnel that is inevitable, you’ll be in a position to compete face-to-face for the business in a much more advantaged position than you have now.

 This article is available in an expanded version. Click here to read it.

This will get you started. If you’d like to dig into this issue some more, here are some additional resources:

* An article: The Impenetrable Account at

* Pod-11, “Managing the Impenetrable Account” in the Sales Resource Center.

Good luck.

Copyright MMXIV by Dave Kahle

All Rights Reserved

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. Check out our Sales Resource Center for 455 sales training programs for every sales person at every level.

You may contact Dave at 800-331-1287, or

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