You have to be careful when and how you talk about your competition in B2B sales. It never pays to speak poorly of your competition, and much of the time, this strategy backfires and causes you to lose credibility. You don’t improve the preference to work with you by throwing your competitor under the bus. But there are ways you get yourself in trouble talking about your competition, even if it seems like a good idea.
Here is one of the ways you can hurt yourself by talking about your competitor.
We’re Working with Your Rival
One of the most interesting things about sales culture is how certain strategies and tactics spread through a sales force. One person pursues a strategy or a tactic, infecting others with the idea, and spreading it across the entire team. Depending on the group you observe, you will find reps that start a cold call with the question, “Did I catch you at a bad time?”
You see others that start a cold outreach with, “Is this a good time?” In both cases, you will find that crutch throughout the entire sales force; if it is present, it permeates the organization.
The tactic we are exploring here is the one that starts with some language that sounds like, “I will share with you what some of your competitors are doing now,” or a variation like, “We are already doing these things with some of your competitors.”
The main idea here is that you are going to activate the competitive nature of the contact you are speaking with, causing them to engage with you to learn how to catch up with their competition, something that generally fails with mature, decision-makers who are seeking an edge, not equal to their competitor. But wait, it’s worse.
Deploying this tactic isn’t without risks, the first of which is that you can cause your contact to disengage because you have disclosed the fact that you have a relationship with their competitor, and that you are going to share with them what you are doing with their rival.
There is an old bit of wisdom that if you are with a person that speaks poorly about someone behind their back, that person will likely do the same. That’s who they are, and it’s why you always need to remember who you are, which is more important than what you do or what you sell.
Your willingness to talk about what you are doing for and with a certain rival means you will be willing to talk about what you are doing with them the next time you meet with their competitor. Intimacy means that you have a relationship with your client where they can tell you what you need to know—and what they need you to know—in confidence. The more you share anything about a competitor, the more you ruin the chance to create any intimacy.
When you name a competitor, you can cause your contacts to worry about sharing information with you. You can—and likely will—have contacts decide not to work with you because you disclose you are working with a competitor. You can stir up their competitive nature, but in a way that works against your goal of engaging them and creating a new opportunity.
An alternative approach, one that doesn’t cause your contact to worry about what they might say to you, is to start with the reason other companies decided to explore the idea you want to share with your contacts and how it resulted in better results. Sharing what compelled your client to change doesn’t require you to name the company at all.
There is little reason to believe that the reason your competitor is working with you is more compelling than the reason you believe your client should pursue the initiative you are sharing with them.
The odds of you winning a big deal because you are working with your prospect’s competition is negligible at best. There is almost zero chance that is the compelling event that causes them to buy whatever it is you sell, even were you to disclose somethings about your client—something you should never do.
Should you want to point at your expertise, you are better served by talking about your experience in the industry—without naming a client. The fact that you have clients in the industry and know how to take care of them doesn’t require that you disclose the name of the company. By not saying anything about any competitor, you make it easier for your contacts to share with you without any concerns that you would talk to their competitor about them.
Recently, I heard from a consultative sales rep who tried this tactic only to have the client ask exactly what competitor they were working with and what they’re doing and why. As soon as the contact inquired, the salesperson realized what they had done and tried to back away from the very approach they believed would result in a meeting and a potential new opportunity.
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