How to Badmouth Your Competitors (and still remain professional)

I had a customer complain about one of my competitors during a sales call earlier this week. Complaining is really too gentle a word in this case. She was really on a roll and ripping them to shreds. I listened without making any comments of my own, noting her complaints for future reference. At the conclusion of her rant, she asked me, “Don’t you have anything to add?” To which I responded, “No. But I do thank you for sharing your concerns with me. I know we can help improve these issues for you.”

Stunned, and little incredulous, she said, “You are the first person not to jump on your competitor. Everyone else I have met with has spent the first 15 minutes beating these guys up and sharing horror stories.”

Truth be told, it would have been easy to pile on. I have heard all of the stories.

There is an appropriate way to speak poorly of your competitor. If you want to be a professional salesperson, there only is this one way. To speak poorly about your competitors you have to lump them in with the entire industry.

There are some prerequisites for being able to do so, however, starting with a differentiation strategy that allows you to draw distinctions between your firm, your product, or your services.

Here is an example. A client says something like, “Your competitor is terrible on service delivery.” A professional salesperson will respond by saying something like this: “I know that XYZ is a fine company, and I even have some old colleagues there. But the industry as a whole has some serious problems with service delivery that they haven’t been able to improve.

We go a different direction than our competitors with regard to service delivery. I’ll show you why we do things another way and the very different result you can expect from us. We . . . . ”

In this example response:

  1. You have demonstrated that you have knowledge of what your competitor does and what causes their failings (you know the company, you know people within the company, you say nothing bad about the individuals whatsoever).
  1. You have indicated that all of your other competitors should be thought of as having a similar problem based on an industry standard (what’s better than the preemptive strike on those that may come after you in the buying process).
  1. You have begun the process of differentiating your service from that of your competitors (and you have started to establish that your firm in fact is different, with different processes, procedures, and ideas about serving clients).

There is really nothing to be gained by badmouthing your competitor unless you use it as an opportunity to differentiate. I have known many sales professionals that believe that commiserating with a prospect will allow them to gain rapport, but it just isn’t true. It looks cheap, petty, and it does nothing to create value for the client (or for you and your company).

If you don’t have a differentiation strategy that allows you to pull this off, don’t think piling on is a good substitute. You are better off saying nothing, which, more than likely, will be a point of differentiation between you and many other salespeople.

Filed under: Sales 3.0

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