Advice for Salespeople
1. Avoid talking about your competition.
When you bring up your competitors in a presentation or conversation, you’re actually putting yourself in a weak position. The primary risk is that you might literally be introducing your prospect to a competitor that they had no idea existed. Remember that your goal is to create a relationship and close the deal. Unless the customer actually asks a direct question about your competitor’s company or offering, you can sidestep any potential land mines by simply avoiding the topic altogether.
The way to build credibility as a sales or marketing professional is to understand the business problems of prospects and show where you can provide value. If you present well and use the right tools, you’ll accomplish your goal of winning the sale without trying to make anyone else look bad.
2. Be honest.
If your customer does ask a direct question about your competitor’s company or product, a dishonest response from you is a losing proposition. Not only are lies easy to uncover, they feed into the existing and damaging image of salespeople as shady and manipulative. Also, bear in mind that you might actually lie without meaning to; this can happen when you either have the wrong facts (the competition might just have rolled out a new product feature, for example) or when the “facts” are actually subjective.
For instance, if you say, “Their system isn’t very user friendly,” you might well receive a response like, “We had a demo, and it looked pretty user friendly to us.” This can also happen in a TCO analysis. Let’s say you have a study that shows the competitor’s failure rates are 10% a year on equipment, and you incorporate that into your analysis. In the presentation, the prospect shows you a more recent study showing that the competition’s failure rates are actually two percent a year. (This is one reason I’m not a fan of making a TCO analysis publicly available on your website.) If the customer catches the discrepancy, you’re in the position of looking either dishonest or incompetent, and you lost your opportunity to build trust.
3. Don’t go negative.
Again, if you can’t avoid talking about your competition in some way, keep a neutral tone. This can be difficult, particularly if you hear through the grapevine that your competitors are bashing you or your product. Stay above the fray. Customers don’t care about petty grievances or turf wars. They want help making a decision about investing in a solution that can help them solve their business problems.
If the customer asks a direct question about your competition, keep it short, and steer the conversation back to the areas where you believe your solution is superior. Think in terms of the following categories:
- How you save the customer time
- How you help the customer earn or save more money
- How you deliver a better experience or offer better support or reporting
4. Leverage the stories of your existing customers.
A good way to approach a customer’s question about a competitor’s features and benefits is to tell a story about one of your own customers who used to use your competitor’s product. Telling the story through their eyes (for example, by saying something like, “One thing our customers who’ve moved from Competitor X’s offering say is that they really like the rapid ramp-up time you get with our solution,”) sets the tone that you’re more focused on helping prospects than simply winning against your competition.
Advice for Marketers
As a marketer, your job is pretty straightforward: steer clear of talking about your competition entirely, especially in content assets or sales collateral. Again, the “facts” about your competition can be subjective and change quickly; you don’t want that information to be stuck in a marketing asset that needs to last you six months. Instead, highlight the strength of your own value proposition and what differentiates you, without naming the competition.
Is it your job to be aware of the competition and their messaging? Of course. You can use that information as part of your process to continually create more value for customers. That value will automatically help your salespeople gain traction with prospects and successfully address their business needs.
Imagine if you were at a job interview and you knew the candidates sitting in the waiting room. Now imagine the job interviewer asked you about those candidates. Would you choose to bash those people in an effort to make yourself look good? You can probably see how taking that route would make you look like a negative person who wants to win at any cost. The next time you’re in front of prospects, keep it positive, friendly, and focused on their business needs. The rest will take care of itself.