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  • Writer's pictureDominic Testo

Why You Shouldn't Badmouth Your Competitor


Frank is a business development rep for a boutique SaaS company. He is fighting for the deal of his lifetime – one that will put his small firm on the map. Frank isn’t just the underdog to win the business. He’s the underdog who’s competing against an industry giant with proven products, name recognition, and relationships within his prospect’s team. Moreover, this giant has had the business for the last three years.

Frank’s strategy was simple. Prove that his firm was big enough to handle the project yet small enough to remain flexible and easy to work with. He wanted to impress upon the prospect that larger companies are too big to match the level of support and value his small firm can provide. Frank figured this would be an easy point to make. When executed correctly and professionally, it’s a good strategy for David vs. Goliath situations. The key to winning is usually in closing the gap between your value and the risk of working with a lesser known company. The decision makers also need to like you since you are a reflection of the company you represent in a huge way. They don't know your company yet so you better represent well.

During meetings, calls, lunches, and dinners, Frank kept talking about how big firms are slow-moving. They take hours if not days to respond to support tickets, he said. During one dinner, Frank told the prospective client’s team about some rumors he’d heard. There were HR issues involving one of the competitor’s sales reps. He also mentioned a news report with accusations of SEC violations. On and on Frank went. He kept blasting his prospect’s current supplier without ever truly focusing on the value his firm offers.

As decision time came near, the two key decision makers were flying home from a meeting. Tom is the CTO and Kelly is the Operations Manager. It was up to them to choose the small boutique firm or the large, well-known incumbent. With two hours in the air and time for an uninterrupted discussion, they decided to make a decision at 30,000 feet.

Tom told Kelly he’d had high hopes for the boutique firm but was disappointed in Frank’s approach. Even after so many meetings, Tom said he still didn’t understand the value that Frank’s company could provide. He also told Kelly that he was unhappy with how Frank badmouthed the competitor since he, Tom, was the one who had brought them in. Tom felt Frank was making him look bad in front of the team and he didn’t agree with Frank’s portrayal of the other company.

Kelly told Tom that she was glad he felt that way. She didn’t like the way that Frank kept bashing their current supplier either. While it was true that this industry giant could be slow at times, any problems they experienced didn’t affect the business on a regular basis. Then she told Tom that she was bothered by the HR rumor Frank had mentioned. Kelly had known the sales rep in question for a number of years and considered him to be a friend. “That really turned me off,” she said.

From his airline seat at 30,000 feet, Tom looked over at Kelly and said: “It’s done. We stick with our current guys.” The decision was made in five minutes and wasn’t even a difficult one.

Lesson Learned From This Tale of The Sale:

There are a few lessons from this Tale of the Sale but the main one is that you should not badmouth your competitors. They are probably good people who are just trying to do what is best for their companies and their families. Your competitors have relationships with your prospects and the same contacts you are courting may have been responsible for bringing them in the door.

When you badmouth a competitor that is a current supplier, you are criticizing your prospect’s decision to work with this company. It’s even worse when you badmouth a competitor in front of the colleagues of the decision maker who brought that competitor in. Do you think they like a sales rep sitting in their conference room questioning their judgement in front of the entire team?

You should also remember that your competitor is probably not as bad as you think. They are still in business and, if they hold the business that you want, how awful can they really be? Are they so bad that your prospect wants to go through everything that’s involved in switching suppliers? There are accounting setups, terms, ERP setups, internal training, implementation time – and the list goes on.

These days, making changes with any high-level product or service isn’t easy. Decision makers need rock solid reasons to choose that pain because they have plenty of other things on their plates. Frank didn’t focus on the value that his company could bring. Instead, he focused on his competitor. All the valuable face-time he had could have been spent productively. Instead, it was wasted – and it won’t come again soon if ever.

The lesson learned here is to worry about you, what your company brings to the table, and what actually matters to the prospect. Stop worrying about what "they" are doing. When Tom Brady was on his way to winning Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, he wasn’t worried about Peyton Manning. He was focused on overcoming the Colts’ defense.

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