The other day, Charlie Green, Anthony Iannarino , and I had a discussion on handling the competition. Charlie posed the question, “Is it ever appropriate to bash the competition.” It was an interesting discussion, and I thought it worthwhile to share some ideas here.
We all want to compete as aggressively as possible, OutPerforming the competition. Generally, we want to focus on building our strengths–what separates us from the competitors, why we create greater value, why the customer would be better off by selection our solutions.
Sometimes, however, I talk to sales people who seem to want to bash the competition–rather than focusing on why their own solution is superior, they tend to want to do everything they can to knock the competition. They talk about the deficiencies in the competition’s products, they talk about how bad the solution or the company is. They focus on all that’s wrong with the competitors.
Frankly, that’s a strategy for losers. In my experience, it does more to reduce your own positioning, than it does to weaken the competitors.’ Here’s why:
First, by bashing the competition, you are doing exactly what you don’t want to do. You are removing the focus from your solution and placing the focus–and the customer’s–on the competition. A better strategy is to keep the customer focused on your solution. Keep them focused on what makes you different, your superior value. Get them to see you as the benchmark of excellence that the competition must strive to achieve.
Second, bashing the competition, criticizing their solution, their capabilities their ability to perform put your credibility at risk—making you appear stupid and ill informed. The competition will ALWAYS know the capabilities and the performance of their solutions better than you. Any claims you make about them can be easily disproved by them—eroding your credibility and making you a fool. The customer should be thinking, “If he was this wrong on what the competition can do, where else has he made stupid and wrong statements?” If your competitors want to bash you and demonstrate their stupidity, then by all means let them. Let them force the customer to come to you and pay attention to you, let them give you the chance to show how wrong they are and give the customer an accurate and informed position about your capabilities.
Third, bashing the competition, focusing on what’s wrong will cause the customer to start to ask similar questions about you and your solution. Continued focus on negatives creates the excuse of the customer to search for or create negatives about you. We never want to shift the customer’s focus from our strengths to our weaknesses–don’t give them an excuse to do this by bashing the competition.
Finally, bashing the competitor runs the risk of making the customer feel stupid. In the least it demonstrates your lack of respect for the customer. After all, there is something about the competition that interests the customer, causing them to want to consider them. You are better served by trying to understand that—ask the customer what they like about the competition, why they are considering them. Listen, probe to understand. Now you know what’s interesting to the customer, you have the chance of coming back to present what you do and why you may have the superior solution–all without threatening the customer or making them feel foolish or defensive.
We need to compete vigorously, but always by keeping the focus on ourselves, what makes use different and what value we create. We can compete, we can talk about differences, but we are more effective when we keep the focus on ourselves and what we do, rather than bashing the competition on their approach. In talking about differences, it’s always far more powerful to position them in terms like:
Make sure the customer knows why your company has chosen to do things a certain way, differing from the competition and then make sure they know what’s in it for them. Make sure they understand your rationale and strategies, that they buy them, and that they use them to challenge the competition with, “Why don’t you do it that way?”
Bashing the competition is a losing strategy. let your competition choose that strategy if they are foolish enough. Keep the focus on what you do, why you do it, what it means to the customers, and why it should be the benchmark against which the customer evaluates alternatives. You keep the customer focused on you, your strengths and differentiation.