The other day, I went on a sales call with a client of mine. We have a new product coming out, and we're looking for beta customers. The company we called on was a bull's eye: They're in our "first choice" target market. They're still using a manual approach to the process our product automates. They recognize they need to change. They "got" what we were saying. They "got" what we were showing them.
But they're also well into their product evaluation process, and have looked at three other products. I know, because I asked them. And as our demo wrapped up, I also asked them how our product compared to what they'd seen (and heard) from the competition.
I think I caught my client a bit by surprise by flat-out asking what the prospect thought about our wares. (I almost heard him gulp.) No, I wasn't fishing for compliments or reassurance. I really wanted to know how we stacked up. I didn't expect a really detailed response, and I didn't get one. (Let's face it, if you've looked at 4 applications that all do pretty much the same thing, any compare-and-contrast is going to be blurry.) But what I did get was some feedback on an important product feature that was of interest to them, not part of any of the competitors' offers, and a potential delighter. The feature is major, a real differentiator, and we can build a very good story around it.
Will we get the deal? Even though in this case we're a small, unknown player going up against "household word" competitors, we may have a shot.
But nice as it is to win a deal, every sales call is not going to result in a sales win. But every sales call you go on as a marketer person should result in your gleaning some helpful information. It can be a tidbit about competitors. Some insight on how the product is viewed in the "real world." Feedback that will help you determine what to emphasize (and what to ignore) when it comes to messaging.
It never hurts to observe, and it can't hurt to ask, either!