How effective are you at convincing a prospective customer to choose the products or services of your small business over competitive offerings? The more established your market, the more participants or products you need to sell against. So even if you do an excellent job explaining your value proposition; it may not be enough to close the sale.

Effectively selling against the competition begins by thoroughly analyzing your market and the range of customer needs. This will help you understand why a prospect might find another offering attractive. Also know your competitors’ products or services as if they were your own.

Next consider all aspects of your offering in light of customer needs. Consider what makes your product or service unique and what you can do on behalf of a customer that your competition can’t. In doing your analysis, you need to be realistic. Some of your competitors may have advantages over you. Understand them and how they might factor into a sales pitch. For example, a professional services firm may tout more capabilities; but you know most clients will only need a core group of services.

Armed with industry and competitive knowledge, you’re ready for the customer conversation. Rule number one is to avoid negative comments about the competition. It can hurt you in a number of ways. You can come across looking defensive and also waste time when you could be talking more about your own strengths. Still if you believe it’s not in the best interest of the customer to buy from the competition, you need to convey that, according to Linda Richardson, sales training professional. Her advice in “How to Sell Against a Competitor,” written by Geoffrey James for Inc., is to guide the conversation to raise questions about the competition in the customer’s mind.

To instill doubt in the customer’s minds, Richardson recommends that you ask the right questions to get the customer to think more positively about your marketing position. For example, if the customer is another small company,  inquire if they are aware that your competition handles mostly big clients. Also try to plant a seed of doubt. You could remind the customer that a competitive product offering has just been introduced so the marketplace hasn’t had a lot of time to evaluate its performance.

Selling against the competition – especially one entrenched in the market – is challenging but inevitable. Doing your homework and preparing you helps you get the sale. It also benefits customers because you’ve helped them understand your differentiation.