I wanted to go over this topic as it’s something I’m increasingly hearing about through friends, clients and suppliers. It’s also particularly resonant to me as our business deals with it on a daily basis. Over recent years the economic turmoil has made every area of industry incredibly competitive; work is now even harder to win and margins have suffered. Accordingly, the pressure is on sales teams to up their game, innovate and persevere with any hint of a sale. So when it comes to mentioning the competition, where should you draw the line?

Looking strong on paper

Bad mouthing the competition
Robert Fenn argues bad mouthing the competition won’t pay off.

It’s certainly not uncommon or unethical practice to compare yourselves to the competition. It is something almost used uniformly by software distributors, for example; often there is an elaborate comparison chart, keenly showing the array of features the company has in comparison to their rivals. Of course, the comparisons are not especially impartial, but for a relatively low-cost piece of software, people often make their decision based on the best solution ‘on paper’, so the chart idea works well.

Actually, I’ve noticed that one of our competitors uses a comparison chart, which our company features in. In our competitors case, they have clearly mystery shopped us at some point, but as evidenced by the chart, some time ago! There are inaccuracies there, with some comparisons simply not true. The tip here is a pretty obvious one: anything you put down on paper needs to be accurate, otherwise it ultimately won’t do its job once the prospect has finished ringing round, and all you’ll end up with is a stern letter from your competitor’s legal team!

Being in the service industry, mystery shopping the competition is not unusual; prices are not often emblazoned on websites or in brochures, so it’s one route to get this valuable information. However, one way we are able to establish our place in the market is by offering a ‘price match’; it results in us seeing competitor quotes, which is useful both in terms of reviewing costing, but also the transparency of the quotation.

Pointing out competitor weaknesses

Let’s get to the crux of the topic then: actually talking about competitors with prospective customers. When it comes to my own experience, the competition isn’t stupid; they’re not silly enough to put anything in an email, or in writing which could then be classified as defamation. Instead, everything is said over the phone and amounts to mere hearsay in comparison.
The key here is that we only find out about some of the things the competition has said about us through the same prospective customers. Of course, we’ll never know if we’ve missed out on prospects that have been taken in by what our competitors have said about us, but we still get a considerable amount of people who will mention it, and importantly, a large proportion that will make a point of saying that they felt it was unprofessional.

Bad mouthing the competition may come out of frustration; you believe you can provide a genuinely better product or service but are having difficulty conveying it. You may even feel some comments are perfectly innocent; perhaps you’ve heard some horror stories or know for a fact you deliver a better service in some areas, but the reality is that buyers are looking for reasons to buy from you, not reasons why not to buy from someone else! By resorting to competitor-bashing, it puts you in to a weak position, undermining what you are saying and thereby making your comments counter-productive.

Standing out from the crowd

The reality is that trash talking the competition is unnecessary, and you can achieve your ultimate aim without resorting to it. Be it a sales call, a brochure, or website, it’s first of all paramount that you break down the features of your service or product down to the benefits. Keep asking yourself the question “so what?”. Whether it saves people money, time, or whatever, you have to get to the benefits.

Your existing clients can greatly influence the decision of prospective ones, so make the most of them! Testimonials, case studies and client survey figures can help build a wealth of reassurance that you are the right company to choose. When it comes down to the crunch, people buy safe, so if you can demonstrate you work with a whole bunch of delighted clients, this will greatly influence their decision.

Ultimately, prospective customers get in touch because they have a problem. Whether it is a lack of efficiency because they don’t have a certain piece of software, a broken radiator that’s annoying staff, or a lack of knowledge preventing them from winning business, they want it solved. The buying decision becomes that much easier if you can present how you have overcome similar issues for existing clients. By citing client names, especially within the same industry as your prospective client’s, it provides that extra layer of confidence. If you have time to prepare then, look to see if you have a similar client you can use as an example.

Keeping on top of your sales team

What you should do and what your sales teams actually do can be two different things. Ironically, one of our competitors we hear much about when it comes to bad mouthing us actually has a publicly viewable ethics policy saying they will not undermine the competition! This is a classic example of when a company’s aspirations aren’t embedded into the culture of the organisation; for all we know, our competitor’s sales team may not even know this policy exists. Ultimately, this is the management team’s failing in not taking the time to engage and involve staff in what they want the company to stand for.

Let’s face it, those in a commissioned sales role have a difficult, high-pressure job. If you want to be part of an organisation that focuses on its strengths, clear and distinctive rules needs to be established with your front-line staff to ensure they don’t go beyond ‘the line’. Instead, to allow them to do the best job, arm them with everything possible so they can shout about how great your company is, eliminating the need to bad mouth the competition.

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