How NOT to Talk about the Competition
By Colleen Francis
Last summer I received a text from a friend cursing my basketball team in the upcoming season. We had just lost a star player and my friend was dancing in the streets. (He cheers for the rival team.) I took it in stride and fired back a zinger about how his team hadn’t won a championship in years. Back and forth we went in good fun. (And of course I won and took the last word!)
In the sports world it’s a tradition to jeer the competition and cheer for your own team. When it comes to selling, however, it’s a risky practice that will make your company appear less-than-desirable to prospects and clients. And who’s to say your competition won’t return the favor by bad-mouthing you in the marketplace?
With that said, the rule of thumb is to never talk about the competition. Whether it’s in the sales process, on a customer support call, at a networking event, or in social media, no employee should ever bad mouth a competitor publically.
There are, however, exceptions ‒ certain times when it’s necessary to acknowledge your opponents because customers are pushing for information on them.
In order to maintain your Nonstop Sales Boom you’ll need to address these moments gracefully while maintaining your company’s integrity. Let’s look at how to do that now.
Be general vs. specific
I’m sure you’ve been in this situation before: A prospect or client is debating whether to sign on or continue working with you and they’re researching other companies. They start grilling you for information about your competitors, essentially backing you into a corner. You can’t avoid their questions, so now what?
In this situation, when it’s necessary to satisfy a client’s curiosity, you should talk about the competition – just not directly about their offerings. What do I mean by this? Keep your answers general, never specific, making sure to use a positive tone. Then, bring the conversation back to you.
Customer: “What do you know about _______?”
Seller: “I can tell you that we see them a lot in this marketplace and they’re a strong player.”
“We love competing against them because they’re a really good company.”
And now switch the focus back to your own company.:
“The reason customers choose to do business with us is because _______.”
By keeping your answers general with a positive tone, you’re protecting your company’s reputation. Think about it: Anytime you say something specific about a competitor’s products or features there’s an automatic risk that what you’re telling your customer is wrong. And worse, if your client knows more about the competitor than you do, they’ll spot the mistake and it’ll hurt your reputation. For example, you might claim another company doesn’t have your product, but you really can’t know that for sure unless you’re working for the other company. Perhaps the competitor recently added that product or made other changes that you’re unaware of.
By giving specific information about a competitor that’s not accurate, you can single-handedly destroy a business relationship. The customer will start to distrust you in other areas. “What else is this seller telling me that’s wrong?” It will bring all other information you provide ̶ and not just about the competition ‒ into question.
I know it can be difficult in the heat of the moment, especially when you feel like you’re battling for the win. But if you want to win more you must avoid the specifics and always be general with your answers.
Lay landmines to promote yourself
Sometimes a customer wants to know about your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. How do they measure up compared to your company? In this case, again, keep your replies general about others before turning the question around to be about the strengths of your own business.
For example, your company offers training on your product and you’re certain the competition is lacking in that area. You don’t want to say to the customer, “The competition offers zero training, so you should go with us.”
Instead, tell them:
“Our customers love the fact we’ve always offered training. We make our customers successful because we have a training program that’s integral for our product.”
“I know you’re looking at a few other companies. One thing our customers have found useful is asking detailed questions about our training program.”
I call this second approach laying a landmine. You’re giving the prospect information to show what you have is better than, or exclusive to, the competition and is therefore important to them. In doing this, you’re setting up your opponents to fail even though you’ve said nothing about them. Positioning here is key. When the customer asks your competition about training and the response is, “We don’t have any training,” they’ll be thinking, “Yeah, but, successful customers want training.”
A further example of general, innocuous statements? When I was with a Canadian-based software company, a customer of mine was particularly focused on knowing a competitor’s positive attributes. My reply? “The reason we win business is because of A, B, C and D. When we lost business to that competitor, the customer told me it was solely because we were a Canadian-based organization and they felt more comfortable doing business with an American one.”
This answer was true and yet general enough to be a non-deal breaker.
Offer proof through testimony
If your company is number one or among the top providers in an area, you can really emphasize this without calling out the competition’s weaknesses. The key is providing evidence. The most effective kind? Client testimonials.
If a customer asks, “What do you mean you’re the top provider in this area? The competition says that, too,” you can tell them, “Rather than me going over the data, why don’t I share with you our client success stories?” Then offer up the latest case studies and testimonials to satisfy any need for hard data.
Having already laid strategic landmines about your company’s strengths, these testimonials will only tip the scales in your favor. And you will have won business without putting down your competition and while maintaining integrity with your customers.
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Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.
Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.
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