Often during my career I’ve had to explain to junior salespeople that we should never directly criticise our competitors whilst with a client.
Junior salespeople often fall into this trap of being critical. It’s tempting to dismiss your competitors as not being serious and as not being able to fulfil their commitments to their customers.
It’s easy to criticise but it can be very dangerous.
It threatens not only the salesperson’s credibility but also your brand and your company by association.
A true story:
Here is a little anecdote of something that happened to me a few years ago and demonstrates perfectly the risks of criticising your competitors. A young, pretty typical car salesman pleasantly approached me whilst I was having a look at a pretty smooth BMW 3 series. Without a doubt a very nice ride…
He promptly asked me what I was driving at the time. I told him, a 5-year-old Renault Megane.
Grinning from ear to ear he began to explain how the 3 series would change my life. He began by listing the various advantages of driving a BMW, the power, the speed, the smoothness, and ended by telling me that there was no comparison between it and my old Megane. Propelled by his momentum and his excitement for his product, he criticised my poor Megane in every which way. Even if he didn’t say it, it was clear he thought that it was a car for cavemen.
This short speech, which started well, ended up by filling me with a sense of worthlessness. I liked my Megane, it was my first car and I was loyal to it. It hadn’t broken down once in those 5 years. I was sentimentally attached to it.
I took his criticism personally. I felt like a loser for driving a car like that.
Anyway, I left quickly, needless to say I took my business elsewhere.
The biggest shame is that I had actually decided that I needed to buy a new car having just had a son, my Megane was no longer suitable. It would have been pretty easy to convince me.
The moral of this story is clear: if you criticise the current choice of your potential client or his/her interest in another option, you risk undermining their judgement. You risk losing both your credibility and likeability.
Clients don’t like it when you criticise the competition, even if sometimes they lead you into doing so. You need to be able to avoid this question or respond smartly.
So, how do you demonstrate the superiority of your product?
Always, always, always focus on your strengths.
Speak about yourself and your product. In the case of the BMW it would have been easy for him to list the clear advantages for me. I’d already decided that it was a better car for me.
When I’m in a client meeting I never mention my competitors’ names. I speak of “other available offers” or “my colleagues”. Why give them free publicity and risk getting a negative reaction from the client.
It’s important for you to show that you’re objective and honest. A relationship of trust is built on a positive approach to sales.
Trust your client to be able to rank different offers according to their merits and never forget that 50% of the sale depends on your relationship with your client.
Ooouch! That hurts!
This doesn’t mean to say that you can’t direct the conversation towards your competitor’s weaknesses. But make sure that you do this indirectly or by posing questions. Do it subtly so as to plant the doubt in your prospect’s mind.
If you’re aware that your competitor has a poor after-sales care service: ask your client what his/her contingency plan is in case there is a problem on the end of the supplier. Has he/she already spoken to the after-sales service? Which precise points can be improved?
As well as commercial risks there are also other legal issues to take into account. An email to a prospect alerting them to the risk of insolvency of one of your competitors could be cause for legal action against you.
Furthermore, if verbal criticism is to be avoided for being counterproductive, written criticism should never be employed as it could later be used to prosecute you.
Prioritise the long-term relationship with your client.
Finally, I advise you to always be ethical in your sales technique.
The best salespeople are those that are able to establish long lasting relationships.
Because of this it is sometimes necessary to tell the client that your offer is not adapted to their needs. This honesty and objectivity will be beneficial to you in the long-term.
By Olivier Piscart, CEO of Salezeo, Sales Prospecting reinvented. Salezeo is the first free European crowdsourced database with contact details of 2.2 million B2B decision makers. 20 000 salespeople exchange business contacts on the platform thus updating the database in real time. The contacts are verified and enriched by powerful search engines, which collect available business information from the web.