How to Find Your Competitor’s Achilles Heel and Exploit Competitve Weaknesses

Do you have competitors who seem totally invincible?

You know what I mean: you call a prospect and you find that your competitor is solidly entrenched.  You know you have a better product and you know the prospect could truly benefit from your services but the competitor’s ‘armor’ is too thick.

What do you do?

The trick is to look for your client’s Achilles Heel; finding a chink in the armor. It is about a professional and value added means of dealing with competitive situations.

The Achilles Heel

For those of you who haven’t recently picked up Homer’s The Iliad, Achilles was the Greek hero who fought against the Trojan Army several centuries ago. You remember? Helen of Troy; the Trojan Horse; Paris, Hector and a cast of thousands.

Achilles was one heck of hero too! He’d sweep in and out of battles knocking aside the enemy right, left and center. Achilles beat the Trojan best. Arrows seemed to brush off his armor like rain. Spears were deflected by his shield. Swords? Forget about it! He brushed them aside like flies.

Achilles is the perfect metaphor for those competitors who are solidly entrenched with prospects. They seem invincible. They seem to brush aside your attempts to get in with the account. Your head on efforts are defeated.

But Achilles was finally defeated; not by a deep sword thrust or a jab of a spear. No. Achilles was felled by arrow to his heel. Not his head or chest or stomach. Not to the usual parts that get injured in battle. His heel.  Achilles heel was the one single area of weakness in the great hero and it brought him down. (Gee, he must of embarrassed … I mean, his heel!)

From that point forward through history, the expression “look for the Achilles Heel” has been used to describe the process of finding a single, often small, point of weakness and exploiting it.

In competitive selling you need to look for the Achilles Heel and exploit it.

How to Find the Heel

The trick to finding the Achilles Heel is twofold.

The first trick is to know your product inside and out. Find out what distinguishes your product. It is sometimes known as your USP or “unique selling proposition.” It is what sets you apart; your products particular claim to fame.  But there is a little more to it than just the USP. You must know all the little things that differentiate your product from others. Little things can be a USP and they can very well be the Achilles Heel for which you are looking. This is especially true in commodity products and services. Often clients see one product as the same as another and are not aware of the subtleties that give your product additional value. In short, do your homework.

The second trick is to do the same thing with your competitor’s product. Know precisely what your competitor has to offer; know the ‘ins’ and ‘outs;’ know the strengths and determine their weaknesses. Search for the Achilles Heel!

Getting competitive information can be tough but it is not impossible. Here’s how you can search for the Heel:

  • Start with the obvious: your competitor’s web site. Chances are you won’t get much of an edge here but you never know. I have seen product specs, terms and conditions, white papers, special articles … you name it. Who knows?
  • Here is something a little gutsier. Call your competitor from your cell phone, pay phone, home or wherever and ask for company brochures and other literature.  Sometimes you’ll pick up a delicious morsel or two. At the very least you will be able to contrast and compare.
  • Discuss the competitive products at meetings with your manager, peers, marketers… virtually anyone who might have an insight or two.  I recommend you seek out veteran sales reps that have been with the company for a few years. If anyone has an angle, it would be these savvy vets from the trenches. The point is: ask.  In a recent training for a software reseller, we discovered there where two new sales reps in the group who had worked with two competitive firms. Heck, I’d lock them up in a tiny room and debrief them for days if necessary! What a treasure trove!
  • But ultimately, the single best source of competitive information is from your prospects and/or customers who use or have used the product. Go straight to the source. Ask them. Learn from them. Discover.
How to Ask for Information

Asking for competitive information is highly effective and relatively easy.  There are just two simple things to remember.  First, limit your competitive inquiries to no more than three questions. This is important. Beyond that the quality of information goes down. Most clients and prospects do not have the time or the patience for lengthy market research calls. You want to gather “market intelligence” which is far more informal and brief.

The second thing to remember is to ask questions that relate to your areas of strength to determine if they are areas of weakness with your client. For instance, suppose you sell fax broadcast services. It’s a highly competitive and price sensitive market.  One of your USPs is quality reports. Your reports tell the user that they are reaching disconnected numbers, voice mails or live voice. This is important for many clients who are concerned about the quality of the lists they are using. You want to know if your competitor has the same feature.

Here’s how you would introduce the request for information and pose the first question:

“Jordan, thank you for your time today.  Incidentally, while I have you, I am must gathering some market research and would just like to ask you a couple of questions. You mentioned that you use the Fax Street Boys. Tell me, does their report include details on no answers, disconnected numbers, voices mails and live answers?”

You might ask another question or two that relate to other USPs but no more than that. At this stage, it is vital to remember that you are searching for the Achilles Heel. You are not selling.  You ask and jot down the information. Take whatever they give you and store it.


Now here’s the important part. The NEXT time you run into the same competitive situation, ask this question again. And so on and so on.  The real point is that you are looking for a trend in the answers.

Here’s why. Some of the prospects or clients you speak with will not always give you the most accurate answers. Some don’t even know. Some don’t care.  Some give a lot more than others. Some will give you what they think you want.

You want information you can bank on; information that is accurate and reliable; information that clearly identifies the Achilles Heel. This is why you need to spend the time and the effort to ensure that your data is accurate. It might take you a few days or a few weeks.

(Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying drop everything and stop selling in order to gather your market intelligence. Far from it. I am saying, when the opportunity to gather the information arises, grab it. Typically, this will occur after you have made a prospecting call. At the end of the call, add your question)

At some point, you will have enough information to determine where your competitor is the weakest. You will have identified the Achilles Heel. Victory!

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