The competition's tough! Increasing sales and market share often means beating the competition to the punch. Take advantage of those times when the competitors are preoccupied with internal matters, promoting the wrong products, concentrating on the wrong markets, or simply asleep at the switch. Here are some tips for outsmarting your competition to gain sales and market share.

Analyze and redefine your market

You may think you know who or where your market is, but chances are there have been major changes in recent years. Have the plants relocated? Have the decision makers changed? Have new industries emerged? Redefine your market and go after it, while your competition is still selling to a disappearing universe.

Concentrate on specific competitors

Do you have the resources to deal with all your competitors at the same time? Probably not. Concentrate on just one or two of them at a time. Your focus may not even be on your strongest competitors, but those that are the most vulnerable to losing market share. Maybe they have experienced significant personnel changes. Maybe they have just been bought out. Maybe they are plagued with long lead times. Pick the best opportunities and hammer away for a year or more. But be sure to monitor all competitive activity in the process.

Concentrate on specific markets

Like focusing on specific competitors, you can more easily gain market share by focusing on specific markets -- geographic or end user. You might select those markets in which your competition is the weakest or those that are growing fastest. You might even borrow consumer blitzing tactics for a short period to have maximum impact. Move some salespeople around. Use telemarketing. Then when the competition begins to react, move on with your increased share.

Analyze your inquiries

Where are most of your inquiries originating? If they are coming from specific geographic areas or specific industries, look for reasons. Are prospects unhappy with the competitors? Have new industries moved into the area? Is your own sales coverage adequate? Inquiries can be more valuable as market analysis tools than as sales leads. Use them to stay ahead of the competition.

Watch for competitive activity

Are they cutting back on advertising? Have they lost their focus on key products or key markets? Have they introduced any new products? Have any new products failed? Are deliveries slow? Is pricing being cut drastically? React quickly, positively, and strongly to perceived weaknesses in competitive activity. Some prospects may now be more receptive to your message and products.

Monitor new territory announcements and distribution changes

Watch for competitors making changes in territorial management or distribution. Many customers do not like change, so their business may be vulnerable while the new person or new distributor takes over.

Sell to the right person

If you and your competitors are both calling on the purchasing agent, maybe it's time to review whether this is the right contact. Perhaps the production manager or a vice president has more influence on the purchase. If you can shift your efforts to new decision makers, you can walk out the door with the purchase order while the competitor stands confused in the hallway.

Spend more when timesare tough

More time, more money, more effort. When the economy's taking a turn for the worse, most of your competitors will curtail their efforts. Every point of market share you gain during the "downs," you keep when the "ups" return. More market share, more sales.

Do it all over, but change it

Eventually your competitors will catch on to your efforts. Be ready to move on when they do. Change your concentration, change your programs. Make the competition react, not lead.

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