Mailbag: How to Badmouth Your Competitor

Mailbag: How to Badmouth Your Competitor

John writes:

I am a landscape designer/landscape contractor.  I just took a call from a client about a drafting a landscape design.  They said they had also contacted one of my competitors and I really wanted to say, “Oh, they’re great at mowing lawns.  However, they aren’t very strong in landscape design and construction.”

I don’t like to badmouth the competition so I kept my opinion to myself.  I think the right answer is that by working with me they will see why I am the better choice and who to choose will be a no brainer.  How would you have responded?  You’re welcome to use this query as fodder for your blog.

It’s easy to answer a question like this by telling you not to badmouth your competitors, to remain professional, and to play your own game. But that’s not the right answer. The truth in that answer is it is wrong to badmouth your competitors by singling them out by name. It’s petty. It destroys trust. It doesn’t differentiate.

There are three ways to badmouth your competitors and still remain professional, and the key here is differentiation. If you can differentiate effectively, you don’t need to single your competitor out by name.

The first way to badmouth your competitor is to pick apart their business model. If they are the low price leader, you differentiate with a better product or a better overall solution. You can’t say, “They’re not really very good.” But you might be able to say something like, “They’re really very good at what they do. In fact, they’re the low price leader in this space. We cost a bit more because our focus is on design and construction. But we believe that we also provide a very different experience, a much greater value for your investment, and a much better result. Can I share of the ways we help our clients get the landscape design of their dreams and see if we might be a better fit for what it sounds like you need?”

The second way is to badmouth the entire industry. This is an especially good method to differentiate because you don’t have to single out your competitor at all. You might be able to say something along the lines of, “Most of the industry is made up of lawn service companies that dabble in landscape design and construction. We think that’s a mistake. Landscape design and construction is a different business. It takes a greater level of expertise. It also requires a different team with a very different level of experience.”

The final way to badmouth your competitors does come with some risk. You can badmouth your competitor’s business practices. But you can only do so if what you are saying is true. And you can’t accuse them of breaking any laws. I wrote a post about some time ago. One of my client’s competitors have revenue-sharing arrangements with their vendors, but they refuse to disclose the amount of revenue. These competitors price low, but they make their money on the revenue-sharing arrangement. This is the kind of business practice that you can badmouth (there’s no transparency).


What is the difference between badmouthing your competitor and differentiating yourself?

Why do people dislike salespeople that badmouth their competition my name?

How can you differentiate your business model from your competitors?

How do you differentiate yourself within your industry?

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  • John Holden

    Thanks for the great post Anthony! It’s amazing how we think what we sell is so different or or our customers are so unique when in the end it’s all the same. Keep up the great work!

  • Paul Quinney

    Anthony – Thanks for the post. It was thought provoking.

    However, in my view, the suggested responses in your post are really just thinly disguised claims about how great the landscaping company is and what sets it apart from others. Not only will the sales rep have to defend these claims, but customers will see through the suggested response in a heart beat and shut down. They’ll see this for what it is – a classic sales pitch. The responses you suggest do anything but differentiate the sales rep and his company. They would make the sales rep look like any other sales rep – just a run of the mill rep showing up and throwing up a bunch of features and benefits. Yada yada yada . . .!

    When the customer told the rep that they had contacted his competitor, why wouldn’t the rep simply say – “OK, I know them. They’re a good company. Thanks for your interest in the possibility of working with my company but can I ask you a question? What are you hoping that my company can do for you that they can’t? What made you call us?

    The rep then needs to shut up and just listen very carefully to the answer. He’ll be on his way to a genuine conversation and meaningful qualification of the prospect.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Paul.

      We might be drawing from a very different set of experiences. I find it rare that any sales organization truly understands their business model, let only uses it to differentiate themselves. When they do, it sounds more like education than a sales pitch.

      I agree with you on features and benefits. But when what you do is different than your industry, it’s a solid point of differentiation. If it’s significant, it can be compelling.

      I love your final question. You’re right. If they called you, they felt something was missing. If they know what it is, your in business. If they don’t know, educating them on the differences can help them figure it out.