Building a sales funnel can be a lot of work: You need marketing and sales collateral, you need to get out there and aggressively fill your sales funnel with contacts, and you need to continuously move those prospects along while you keep your sales funnel full. It can be exhausting!
But one effective way to strengthen your competitive position is to steal prospects from your competition. In other words, get your competitors to put in the sales-funnel-filling effort and you can reap the rewards. It’s neither unethical nor immoral; it’s all about saying and doing the right things at the right time!
Here are four ways you can do that:
STAND CLOSE TO YOUR COMPETITORS
If you have a business that operates out of a physical location, you’ll want to make sure that prospects can see your sign at the same time they see your competitors’ signs. This is one reason why you tend to see fast food stores grouped together. On a smaller scale, you see this in grocery stores, where an entire aisle will be devoted to a particular type of product.
This concept also applies online, too. If your competitors use a specific mix of keywords, and you want to steal their customers, you need to identify what keywords they’re using and surpass your competitors on how you are optimized for those keywords. Ideally, you want to accelerate past them on search engines. (And, if you end up on the same results page as your competitor, improve the text that appears as a blurb/summary in the search engine results to make it more compelling).
The challenge in choosing this method is to make sure that your brand shines the brightest when you are side-by-side with your competitor.
INVITE PROSPECTS TO COMPARISON SHOP
This is related to the tactic above, but it’s effectively used when there isn’t an obvious side-by-side comparison, or if there is a lot of loyalty to the competitor.
In the 1980’s, Lee Iaccoca inserted Chrysler into GM’s and Ford’s sales funnel by challenging his audience with the line: If you find a better car, buy it. In a way, it reminded contacts that there is a choice. Today, we see Ford commercials where Ford contacts people selling their used Hondas and Toyotas (and are likely going to buy another Honda or Toyota) to get them to test-drive a Ford.
As a freelance writer, I used to use this tactic effectively to keep my sales funnel full: I often told prospects that there would be a lot of freelancers vying for their attention and offering ridiculous prices to win their business. I wasn’t about to lower my prices, but I empowered my prospects with some helpful decision-making tools so they could easily determine which freelancer worked for them. (Sometimes it was me, and sometimes it wasn’t).
Progressive.com provides real-time quotes from several competing insurance companies on their websites. Sometimes Progressive’s quote is higher, sometimes it’s lower, but it gives a sense of authenticity to a very competitive industry, and it encourages a lot of people to click there first to find out.
When I was in sales, the company I worked for had a lot of people calling in to get a quote, and if we couldn’t close the deal on the phone, we were instructed to tell prospects to call us back and we would beat our competitor’s lowest price. This was an effective way to ensure that prospects called us back (although, in general, I don’t think that being a low-priced provider is a smart long-term strategy for many businesses).
And waaaaaaay back when I was in high school and working at a fast food place, we were instructed to take any competitor’s coupon. I worked at a sub place, and if a prospect brought in a buy-one-pizza-get-one-free, we were to give an equivalent offer. This was an effective way to get customers to clip all kinds of coupons but still to come to our restaurant.
SHOW UP ON THEIR WEBSITE
It is possible to show up on your competitor’s website! If your competitor posts ads from an automated ad network (i.e. AdSense), chances are good that those ads are for a related product or service. If you sell that product or service and use the right keywords, paying for an ad in that ad network could get you listed on your competitor’s website.
Another way to appear on your competitor’s website is to contact your competitor and work out a referral agreement for customers that don’t exactly match the kind that you serve. For example if your competitor is a low priced provider and you provide a longer-lasting product, then most of your customers will remain your own but any low-priced customers who come to you can be sent to your competitor and any customers looking for longer-lasting products can be sent from your competitor to you. This can be a difficult strategy to pitch, though, so expect a lot of resistance and skepticism. But I’ve used it myself when I was a sales manager.
APPEAR AT EXACTLY THE RIGHT TIME, WHEN THE PROSPECT IS READY TO BUY
Timing is everything. Showing up at exactly the right moment (when your competitor’s lead or prospect is about to advance a stage in the competitor’s sales funnel) can win that contact over to you.
But doing that effectively isn’t easy. Real estate agents and financial advisors try to do it with marketing collateral (magnets, calendars, etc.) that keep the professional’s name in front of the prospect.
But there are better ways to do it: If you know approximately how long people take to use a product or service that they’ve purchased from your competitor, you can time your marketing to reach out to them when they are nearing the point where they have to buy again and incentivize them to buy from you.
A very simple example of this is placing a coupon on the bottom of a tissue box and then blitzing the marketplace to get a box of tissues into people’s homes (perhaps through a cross-product promotion or a loss-leader-style giveaway). The coupon on the bottom of the tissue box is there for them to use for the next time… essentially inserting you into your competitor’s sales funnel.
Another example is the bank of dedicated phone lines at airports. You’ve seen them (and probably used them): Your plane lands, you pick up your luggage, and then you go to the bank of phones. If you want a rental car, you pick up one of the phones with the rental car logo on it and it connects you immediately to that rental car place. If you want a hotel, you pick up one of the phones with the hotel logo on it and it connects you immediately to that hotel.
Lots of businesses can use this. When I first started my business, I was contacted by a marketing firm that wanted to sell their services to me. They found my information from the list of new companies published by the government licensing agency every month. Although I didn’t hire them, they showed up in my life at a time when I was looking for the kinds of services they provide.