Maybe I just don't get it, but I still believe that knocking the competition is the wrong thing to do. But I must be in the minority because it happens all the time. Just turn on the TV or read the ads in magazines and newspapers. I've even had salespeople call on me who almost immediately start their presentations by criticizing their competitors. That's unnecessary and unprofessional. In fact, saying negative things about a competitor usually has the opposite of the desired effect. It makes the salesperson look spiteful and classless. Plus, just mentioning the competitor's name gives that rival an unintended boost. Don't fall into that trap, no matter how tempting it is. Talk about your product and its features. Be factual, enthusiastic and ethical and you'll be respected as a true professional.
I'd like to share a story that taught me a lesson early in my advertising sales career. I had tried for a year to land one particular account. Finally I got an appointment to see the advertising manager. The company had been running a lot of ads in competing publications, which made me both embarrassed and angry. I just knew my publication was head and shoulders above my competitors. I had all kinds of data to prove my magazine's superior ability to reach this company's target audience. When the day came for my appointment, I was ready. I was confident I would come away from my call with a big sale. I was convinced it was a slam-dunk deal. Was I wrong!
I introduced myself to the ad manager and almost immediately started talking about how much better my magazine was compared with the others. I even had copies of the other publications and said all kinds of negative things about them. I was on a roll. I just knew I had to be impressing the guy. That is until midway through my presentation, when he interrupted me with words I will never forget: "Young man, I am very disappointed in the approach you have taken with me. I wanted to hear about your publication and its features so we could consider running a major advertising schedule with you. But you haven't mentioned the strengths of your magazine since you arrived here. All you've talked about are your competitors, and I already know about them. Frankly, I'm not only disappointed, I resent your wasting my time. So why don't you come back some other time and talk about your magazine." I didn't know what to do. I was deflated and embarrassed. I just stood up, thanked the man for his time and left.
It was at least six months before I got in to see that manager again. I can assure you when I made my second presentation there was no mention of the competition. I did eventually get a hefty schedule from that company, but the lesson learned from that ad manager has stayed with me through my career. I still shudder when I think about that call.
I know there are times when clients or potential customers will ask you to compare your products or services with the competition. They invite you to do so because they want to evaluate what you have to offer in terms of price, features and value-added services. Always wait for that invitation before you start pitching the superiority of your products or services. But be careful. Do it with taste and professionalism. Don't make promises you can't keep, and don't exaggerate. Eventually you'll have to deliver what you promise. If you're caught in a lie, your big win will turn into an even bigger loss.
Accentuate the positive,
Charles S. Lauer