Book review

Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away From Your Competition by Anthony Iannarino 

Title: Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away From Your Competition

Author: Anthony Iannarino

Publisher: Portfolio

Selling a product – or a service like accounting – is not just a matter of touting its quality and value and hoping you’ll win over a potential customer. In an age of competition and disruption, you sometimes have to take a sledgehammer to the competition.

That’s the basic advice offered by Anthony Iannarino, a career salesman turned sales tactics guru. He might couch the approach in slightly gentler terms, and indeed insists that a “whatever-it-takes, win-at-all-costs approach to sales” isn’t what he’s advising. However, he adds on the next page: “If the ocean is red, it doesn’t have to be your blood that stains the water.”

Iannarino now makes a living from selling the ideas and techniques he once employed. His previous books are The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, a kind of primer on selling, and The Lost Art of Closing: Winning The Ten Commitments That Drive Sales, a more advanced guide. In his new book, Iannarino covers competition. “Before we can talk about displacing your competitors and eating their lunch, we have to discuss how you should be thinking about your competition,” he writes.

Eat Their Lunch arrives as regulators around the world are taking a closer look at the state of corporate competition. In February, European regulators blocked plans by engineering conglomerate Siemens and rail transport company Alstom to merge assets and create a rail giant. Last year, the European Commission fined Google €4.34 billion for illegally strengthening the dominance of its search engine on Android devices. Meanwhile, Singapore fined ride-hailing firms Grab and Uber over their merger, saying it drove up prices.

To Iannarino, companies like Google and Uber have a “blue ocean strategy,” creating new markets where there is no competition. “They disrupted their industry with an offering that – for a time – made them a category of one, eliminating the necessity of having to compete against other companies,” he writes.

Most salespeople don’t have that easy a life, “where there is little competition, high profit margins, and easy growth.” Iannarino appeals to those splashing about in that red ocean. “It’s a framework for competing against tough and worthy rivals,” as he describes his book. “It’s about competing for their existing clients by creating greater value.”

Iannarino outlines four levels of salesmanship. The lowest level of value is that of the product or service. “The challenge here is that there are so many good and acceptable products in competitive markets like yours, that your product by itself isn’t differentiated or compelling enough to motivate a potential client to change partners,” the author notes.

As any accounting firm should know, clients need help making the product or service work, and obtaining their desired outcomes. That is Level 2. “When we provide clients with our product, we also create the need for service and support. Products sometimes fail. Other times, results are difficult to deliver. Helping your client implement, use, and troubleshoot your product is a higher level of value.”

A good salesman, however, needs to aim for Level 3. That is when you have changed the strategies in the client’s office. Wallet share is the percentage of the client’s total spend they are spending with you as the salesperson. “Mindshare,” says Iannarino, is far more important. “Mindshare means that you own a portion of your prospective client’s thinking.”

Iannarino’s ultimate goal, Level 4, will also have resonance with CPAs. “In The Lost Art of Closing, I wrote that you need only two things to be a trusted advisor: trust and advice,” he writes. “Being consultative requires that you give good counsel, the prerequisite being the business acumen and experience to be able to do so.”

It’s all very well to snare a client from the competition, but keeping them is another matter. Iannarino points out that it is easy to find that your keenly sought-after client has “displaced” you by drifting back to their original supplier, or fallen prey to a nimbler upstart.

“If there is a root cause of all displacements, it’s complacency,” he writes. “Having won the client’s business and served them for years, your competitor falls into a routine with your dream client.”

Now you have to make sure you can keep dining out on your new client. Or you’ll find that you are someone else’s lunch. “If all you do is provide a good product,” says Iannarino, “you will find it extremely difficult to generate any real loyalty from your clients.”

Author interview: Anthony Iannarino 

A quarter of a century since he began a career of convincing people to buy things, first by asking for donations for a bike-a-thon to aid a muscular dystrophy charity, Anthony Iannarino has a very blunt view of sales as a career.

“Sales is a form of competition, with one salesperson winning, and all of their competitors necessarily losing a deal,” he tells A Plus from his home in Westerville, Ohio, an affluent suburb of Columbus, the state capital. “I wanted to bring these ideas back into the conversation and give people a practical, tactical approach to winning.”

Iannarino sees today’s markets as increasingly segmented, partly as a result of the rise of the digital economy. “Market domination is a lofty goal, and one that is near impossible to achieve in the fragmented world we live in now.”

That inspired him to look at sales in terms of competitive advantage. “Competition is healthy in and of itself because it creates a contest as to who can create the greatest value for the customer, creating an upward spiral of innovation and value creation,” he says.

But, he adds, “we also haven’t paid enough attention to the fact that, for most of us, growing our sales means taking a customer away from our  competition – while they are trying to do the same thing to us.” Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away From Your Competition, his third book in two years, is the result.

Apart from a more competitive landscape, Iannarino believes business-to-business (B2B) sales as a concept is largely immune from automation, noting that the Internet, e-commerce and financial technology have done little to change the dynamics of closing a deal.

“None of those things have been as big of an effect on B2B sales as globalization, disintermediation, and commoditization,” he says. “What this means for salespeople is that they need to create greater value for their clients and prospects if they want to win business – and if they want to be relevant at all. It’s the value that allows one to be consultative, to aspire to being a trusted advisor and to provide strategic advice.”​

Iannarino, who says reading and writing are his only hobbies – though he admits to occasionally stealing off to the local gym for weight training – says he has three more books in the works. “The first book is about coaching salespeople, the second book is about how to create and sustain a positive, indomitable mindset, and the third book is a new view of how you reach your full potential.” 

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