Should you ever badmouth your competitor? Of course, everyone says no, and this is backed by virtually all of the business research on the subject. Okay then, done deal. Wait, not so fast. It’s not that easy. Anyone who has been in sales for any length of time will tell you that there is always a particular competitor or two that just gets under their skin. Perhaps that competitor is cheaper, perhaps they are larger and seem to have so many more advantages, and perhaps they even badmouth you. So, how should you handle these situations and what disciplines do you need to bring to the task?
First, the disciplines. Bad mouthing the competition arises from frustration, an emotion that, while understandable, is under your control. You have to decide who is going to be the adult in the room. If you decide that you are only going to talk about your competition in a professional manner, you have to communicate that to everyone of your sales people, service people, office staff… in essence, everyone in your company who talks to the public. Now for the hard part. You have to demonstrate that in your behavior every single day. As we said above, it’s not that easy, but you can establish a culture to this effect as long as you demonstrate leadership, fortitude and persistence – even in the face of potentially outrageous behavior by your competitor and their salespeople. “That’s fine,” you say… perhaps a bit sarcastically. So just how do you do this?
First, realize that this consumer has contacted you because they have a problem that is, as of yet, unresolved in their mind. If they had full faith in the competitor that was bad mouthing you, they would have already made the purchase. That sets the table for you to show the consumer how you have solved this/similar problems for other customers in the past. Second, don’t merely be dismissive of your competitor. If you are, you are being dismissive of this customer.… which does not help to build trust in their mind with your organization. In addition, you are losing a great opportunity to create an image of your competitor built in the likeness of your choosing. Your company’s marketing people, with the involvement and approval of senior management, should put together and regularly update a narrative about each of your major competitors that helps potential customers better understand the differences in a way that clearly differentiates your company. Anyone in your firm who touches the public in any way needs to be thoroughly familiar with these narratives. What are the elements of this narrative?
- When your customer tells you about your competition and/or about what they have said about you, first take a deep breath. Then, instead of responding directly, talk about your company on a philosophical level. Tell the customer why your organization went into business and how you view customers in general. For example, you could tell a customer that the owners of your firm were frustrated by what they saw as a lack of problem-solving/professionalism/whatever it might be in the geography served, and they went into business in order to understand every single customer’s needs so they could respond professionally and appropriately to those needs. This is a critical step. It is much more important for all your customers to understand what your organization stands for, rather than see how you will respond to a tit-for-tat bad mouthing game. In a manner that is as honest as you understand it, explain how this contrasts with what you understand to be your competitors focus. For example, your philosophy might be to first understand your customer’s situation in its entirety before you begin to apply solutions. That would include understanding the health of their duct system, the integrity of the building envelope, the operating effectiveness and efficiency of all mechanical equipment, the health of the indoor environment etc. Explain how your philosophy is to keep a customer for life, working with them over time to make their home as efficient and comfortable as possible. Your competitors focus for example, might be to respond to demand service calls, fix the customer’s immediate problem and move on. There is nothing inherently wrong with either approach, but it sets the table for you to differentiate your firm.
- Next, provide general examples of why your approach is superior. For example, talk about customers whom you first came into contact with because of a problem they were having, and how your relationship over the years has benefited this customer by solving problems the customer never knew they had, which led to a big improvement in their overall satisfaction.
- Finally, pivot to this customer situation. Demonstrate not only how you can solve the immediate problem, (which is likely the only one your competitor talked about) but also show the customer some things they can do to improve their environment/efficiency etc. now as well as some things you can work with them on over time to mitigate future problems/improve their indoor environment/reduce their operating costs etc. down the road. Done correctly, your customer likely won’t even be thinking about your competitor at this point.
In the end, all the consumer really wants is to have their problem solved at a price they can afford, (notice I did not say the cheapest price) by a company they feel they can trust.