Tuesday, July 1, 2008

…But don’t degrade them.

No matter how desperate you are to get your first customer, never talk bad about your rivals. It’s unprofessional. That should be reason enough to say nice things, or at least to remain neutral on the subject. Prospects don’t want to buy things from companies that look bad. If you try to throw your competition’s reputation down a hole, you’re likely to be chained to them when they go. You’ll get just as dirty as they do.

The second reason you should never denigrate your competition is that you may inadvertently send them business as a result. This happened my company the other day: A call came in from someone looking for online registration software. The call was quite fortuitous because it just so happens we sell online registration software. Until that moment, we did not know this person’s company needed software like ours. In fact, we did not know the company existed. Until a short time before that, the prospect did not know we existed either. We can thank one of our competitors for that.

“How did you find out about us,” we asked.

“From one of your competitors,” the prospect answered. “I asked them who their competitors were. They specifically mentioned you and went on and on about how bad you were. They got me so intrigued about you that I just had to call you and see for myself.” One hour later, that prospect became our customer. It was one of the shortest sales cycles in our history. Maybe we should have shared some of the sales proceeds with our competitor to thank them for the lead.

Maybe we should ask them to keep up the good work.

Conversely, a prospect asked us a few days ago to name a few of our competitors. “There are quite a few good ones,” we said, acting as if we just loved talking about the competition. After we named a few, the prospect asked how we differed from them. (This is a beautiful question to hear during the sales process.) “Well,” we said, “as we mentioned, they all are good companies. It’s just that we do things a little differently.” After we outlined a few of the key differentiators, the prospect said, “That’s what I thought, too. Thanks for confirming it.” We used our rivals to point out certain advantages we offered without talking negatively about them. Not only was there no need to denigrate the competition, we had the opportunity to compliment them to our advantage. We only looked better—more professional—in the prospect’s eyes as a result.

If you are comfortable with your offering, and confident that it matches up well with your competition, you should not be afraid to mention them, and to compliment them if applicable. Prospects will be much less curious about them, and that much more impressed by you.
You will occasionally get calls from competitors masquerading as prospects. These calls are a sweet nuisance. Not only does it mean your competition is aware of you, it also means they want to discover why your customers choose you. When a rival first calls you, pretending to be someone interested in your product/service, be delighted. It proves you’ve arrived because your competition is keeping an eye on you. Soon they’ll be worried about you. Later, they’ll be working for you.

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