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Take a SWOT at Competitive Analysis to Fix Sales Problems at Key Accounts

Post Series: strategic account development plans



In my last post we discussed why it is important to take a SWOT at your key accounts and understand the business of their business as we build key account strategic growth plans. To be seen as a trusted advisor who continues to deliver industry insights we need to do our homework. How much do you know about your competitors that share your key accounts? In this post we will discuss why we need to take a SWOT at your competitors as well.


As I have shared in past posts I have served many teams over the past 35 years helping them identify and fix sales problems. Each team had it’s own strengths and weaknesses and they all taught me a great deal about new interesting markets, business models and various channels to go to market. In each assignment we conducted voice of the customer research to insure we clearly understood what our customers wanted and needed today. We discovered the buying process and the buying criteria their buyers and decision influencers required to make a buying decision today.


I hope you are sitting down for what I need to ask you next….


What do you really know about your competitors?


What are their strengths?


What are their weaknesses?


What are their opportunities for growth based on their distinctive competencies?


What threats could negatively impact them?


Learning and talking about competitors is like talking about fight club and no one talks about fight club…and it’s wrong.”

  • Mark Allen Roberts


Why is this the case?


How can we strategically build sales growth plans at our large key strategic accounts if we do not objectively understand the competitive landscape?


There was one common trait that caused many of the teams who hired me that had sales problems and needed my services: Hubris.


Hubris: “describes a personality quality of extreme or foolish pride or dangerous overconfidence,[1] often in combination with (or synonymous with) arrogance


When I have agreed to help  teams I meet with their senior leaders and I ask questions about their business and their competitors. Maybe its because sales is a full contact sport, or maybe it is wishful thinking, or even a dated view…but often senior teams say things like the following about their competitors:


“They suck! …Their service is terrible and they give their products away…”


“Our company is the Best…”


“We are the most Innovative in our industry…”


“We are the leader in our industry…”


“We are the only one in our market who can _______”


“We have the best quality…”


“We have the best people…”


“We have the most robust processes…”


If you were in my shoes at this point, what is the problem?


If you said: “they did not answer your question” … you would be correct.


Even if everything they shared above were true it does not help me shape a sales strategy to beat the competition at their key strategic accounts.


Now don’t get me wrong in many cases there was a time, years ago, their company was probably the dominant player in their market but the trouble is the competitors have caught up and they never adjusted their strategy. Think about how much has changed in the last 10 years. They are executing a strategy today based on an outdated information and it should not surprise us that less than 60% of the sales team achieved sales growth goals last year…again.


So once again, now that we got that out of your system….


What do you know about your competitors that share each of your key accounts?


When I provided consulting services back then I had no emotion for my client’s competitors. I had no political worries if I shared something that might make the owners and or the board uncomfortable. I had one CEO say: “Wow you really break glass don’t you? You just throw it all on the table?

Yes, and the good news is your company would not have lasted this long if you did not have smart dedicated team members and good processes, so what do you say we feed your team facts of today and let them shine building strategic sales plans?

Many times after conducting voice of the customer work I had to share good things customers shared with me as well as throw the skunk on the table and share problems their customers had with how they did business.

In one such discussion I asked the son of the founder, who just shared how much the market leader in their industry , his competitor, sucked…


Does your competitor really suck? (It was like someone sucked all the air out of the boardroom or it was like I told him his baby was ugly) Everyone in the room was looking at me in disbelief. Senior managers were looking at each other uncomfortably and waiting for the ball to drop. What was interesting was his father the founder had a bit of a smile.


So I asked a few questions based on my market work…


If your competitor is so bad …please answer a few why questions for me….


Why are their sales 3 ½ times your sales?


Why has their EBIT as a % of sales grown 2.25 % in the last 2 years and yours dropped 3%?


Why did they just win an award for another innovative new product?


Why did they successfully launch into a new market 3 years ago you do not sell into and they now are the dominant supplier?


Competitors also have negative issues and we need to bring everything out into the light of day to truly develop key account strategic growth plans that create sales velocity.


All politically driven emotions aside please answer the following questions honestly…


What are your competitors value propositions?


What markets do they serve?


Are they particularly strong in one market or another?


In the markets they are strong in …tell me about the gross margin. Is it high or low?


How cyclical are their key markets?


What are they really good at?


Where have your customers told you they struggle?


Based on analysis you have done, where are they vulnerable?


What is their biggest threat?


What do we know about their sales for the last 3-5 years?


What do we know about their profitability over the last 3 years?


Have they made any strategic acquisitions in the last 5 years and how to they fit with their other products?


What have they shared on their website and in their shareholder reports we need to know?


In the accounts you share, why does the account buy what they do from the competitor and not you?


In the accounts we share why does the customer buy what they do from us and not them?


What has your key account shared your competitor does very well?


Is there anything your key account wishes your competitor would start doing or stop doing?


Have you bought your competitor’s products and sent them to an outside third-party test lab and run side-by-side performance and durability testing? What were the results?


Where do your competitor’s products ship from? Near by, in the region, international?


How do they package their products?


How do they price their products?


How wide and deep is their product portfolio? Where are their product gaps?


Are there any patented proprietary parts they supply this account and they are leveraging?


What terms do they give your key account?


What industry certifications do they have and can they meet?


Does your competitor provide training, research and development, and or other services? If so what are they? Are they free or is there a fee?


How long has your competitor sold your key account?


What % of the customer’s buying dollars does your competitor have? Is it growing or declining in the last three years and why?


How would you rate their key account manager’s relationships in this account? Shallow or wide and deep?


Does she have relationships with all the key decision makers or just the buyer?


Has she worked her way up to the C-suite? If so how did she do it?


Once you take an objective SWOT at your competitors your team will be able to build a strategic plan based on current facts that drives sales velocity and provides tremendous value to your customers.


So how you doing?…


Leaders I have served with high emotional intelligence and are focused more on winning, increasing shareholder value and becoming the dominant market leader  love having these discussions and learning about their competitors. They enjoy building key strategic account development plans based on current facts not politically corrected dated beliefs.


Leaders who have the ability to objectively review competitor strengths and weaknesses based on data and voice of the customer research create plans that drive profitable sales growth and create sales velocity for years to come.


If you are feeling uncomfortable why do you think that is?


I had one president share in one of my sessions: “You make me feel uncomfortable, you are asking things we should know but we don’t. It makes me wonder how effective any of our sales strategies are ,,,”




Today is a new day and we can gather what we need and help your team win!


If you really believe all your competitors suck then I promise you your salespeople are struggling, you are loosing orders you should have won because your salespeople  are selling naked. They lack an understanding of how to strategically leverage your distinction and beat the competitors. Your salespeople are using a dated sales process. The market today is not about working harder, its about making a smarter plan based on today’s realities .


Please have your team conduct competitive analysis and take a SWOT at your competitors.


In our next post we will discuss how to use the information you have gathered to design a key account strategic growth plan that results in explosive profitable growth for both your customer and your company.


If you would like to learn more about competitive analysis (after you cool down) please visit the below websites.



How to do Competitive Analysis 


57 questions to ask in competitive analysis


8 steps to Competitive Analysis


Harvard: Mapping your competitive position


Social Media competitive analysis 


Track your competitors with Klue 

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