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(Reprinted from BarterNews issue #52, 2000)

How do you sell an account that's in your competitor's hands?

Use a barter offer--the most powerful closing tool in existence!

OK, so you've called on a high-potential account a number of times... but can't seem to get anywhere. The more time you spend on the account, the more apparent it becomes that one or more of your competitors is deeply ingrained as a supplier to that account.

It looks like this account is not really interested in you--not because of you or your company, but because of a previously established relationship with a competitor.

So, how do you manage this account? What should you do?

  1. Go around, not through, the competition.
    This customer is probably not buying everything from your primary competitor. There likely is a handful of other suppliers selling items that you could provide. Focus on those, and offer your products and services on trade.

    The key is to find items that are being purchased from someone other than the main vendor, and present your company's options on these. 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 barter proposals for these kinds of items, you don't threaten your customer's relationship with the competitor, and you begin to show them the value of a relationship with you.

    To "go around the competition," find some area within the customer's business where the competition is very weak, or find someone who doesn't like dealing with your competitors.

    In a large organization, there are often dozens of decision-makers and influences. It's likely that one or more of them may not like dealing with your competitor. Find that person or persons.

  2. Make a persistent, strong barter offer to be the secondary supplier for that account.
    Remember, customers are loyal to their key suppliers. Make a consistent appeal to the customer that they should have a similar relationship with a backup supplier--you.

    You're not implying criticism of the primary supplier, but things that are out of their control can happen, and the continuity of suppliers could then be interrupted.

    In that case, it's to the customer's advantage to have a good relationship with a secondary supplier. That's an argument that often resonates effectively within this kind of account.

    Both of these strategies require you to be persistent in visiting the account, pointing out the advantages of working with you--especially on a trade basis. Then stay visible, even in the face of little success or encouragement from the customer.

    Assuming that the potential of the account is worth the investment, your persistency and your unique (barter) offer will be your key strategies.