From the June 2002 issue of Entrepreneur

Looking for new customers? It pays to consider who's already using your competitors' services or products. If you're wondering why those customers should do business with you, well, that's exactly the question you'll have to answer if you expect them to make a vendor change. So before you attempt to woo a customer away from a competitor, you must ask yourself these questions: What can I offer that's different from my competitor? How can I bring more to my customer's business? How can my product or service add more value to the potential customer's business?

Once you've answered all these questions, there's one thing left to ponder: What is the competition doing that you can do better, and what isn't the competition doing that you can offer the customer? Suppose your prospective customer has been buying from Acme Widgets for a long time. It's likely Acme is taking that business for granted or even becoming complacent about the service they provide. That's a perfect opportunity for you to offer your new prospect a "teaser," such as a week-long free trial (or 30 days, or a discounted price, or whatever makes sense for your business) so he or she can see that the kind of value you offer makes your company much better than the competition. Then you can say, "If we don't prove ourselves, stay with your present vendor. I promise you, once you try our product, you'll understand why changing suppliers is good for your business."

Approaches That Work

There are many ways to woo customers, and some are more direct than others. Here are three methods, starting with the most direct:

  • Don't let the "we're happy with our current vendor" statement stop you from courting the customer. Say something like "Just out of curiosity, did you use someone else before you chose your current vendor?" When the customer says yes, ask "What was the reason you changed?" After she tells you, you can say, "Just as your present vendor offered you different opportunities and benefits from your old vendor, there may be benefits we have that you're not aware of. How does Thursday look for me to visit and explain them to you?"
  • Stay in touch even after he or she says no. You never know when a company may be looking to make a change. Of course, you don't want to keep calling and calling, but you can keep that company in an "automatic send" file. Then, whenever you have new information-whether it's the introduction of a new product, an important announcement about your business, or a piece of information that's relevant to the prospect's industry (even if it's not directly related to your product or service)-the potential customer is automatically included in the list of people who get the fax, e-mail or mailer.
  • Concentrate on becoming so successful that customers eventually come to you. If your wooing tactics are not panning out, move on to a new business. Generate positive word-of-mouth. Use testimonials from present customers in ads and promotional materials. When there's a buzz in the industry that you're the best around, the account you've been pursuing will be knocking on your door.

There are no magic tricks to wooing customers away from the competition. It's done by understanding what they need and finding out how you can best add value to their businesses. Once that happens, your energy, enthusiasm and success with others will eventually persuade your competitors' clients to make the switch.

:: QUICK PICK ::

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--Steve Cooper