A Sales Tactic That's Guaranteed to Backfire

Last Updated Jun 28, 2011 12:22 PM EDT

Listening to a salesperson slam the competition is like watching a nasty political attack ad: It feels slimy, desperate, and pathetic. Making someone else look bad is never the way to make yourself look good.

Whenever someone pitches me something and starts to head down the negative selling road, I immediately begin to tune out. Every minute that salesperson spends telling me why I shouldn't buy from his competitor -- rather than why I should buy from his own company -- takes him down a notch, and eventually he stands a good chance of driving me out of his greasy clutches and into the arms of another company... perhaps the very one he was trashing.

Here are three ways to make sure you're the salesperson wearing the white hat -- the one who usually rides victoriously into the sunset:

1. Never lose your focus on selling yourself and your product/service in the most positive way. Let class, professionalism, well-placed pride (short of hubris) and confidence shine through. Speak to me like a human being. Tell me some good things about you and your company. Spare me the hard-sell, buzzwords, and BS. Answer my questions honestly and straightforwardly. If you can't sell on your own merits, chances are you don't have anything I'd want to buy anyway.

2. Don't engage in rumor-mongering. More than a few times I've had a salesperson say something about a competitor along the lines of, "You do know that they've been having all kinds of financial issues... Geez, I don't know what that's going to do to their product support situation." Maybe some of the rumors are true, maybe not. It's my responsibility to look at all my options and get to know companies with which I might be working. And you're not telling me this hearsay news to be a good and helpful friend -- you're simply backstabbing your competitor.

3. If your competitor does have legitimate shortcomings that are critical to making your sale, convey them the right way: You could snicker and say, "Their model 7000 is really a piece of junk compared to our VCX8200." Or you can say, "You know, their 7000 is a decent machine, and I think it's fine for some applications. But from what you're telling me, I think I can show that our VCX really has some distinct benefits that make it a better fit for you." And then support it with facts. You're delivering the exact same message without reeking of low-down desperation.

And a few bigger-picture words to the wise:

  • If you start down the dirty road of competitor-bashing, be ready for the dust that may get kicked back in your face. Whatever you say is guaranteed to get back to your competitors, and unless you and your product are as clean as a baby's butt, slamming them and putting them on the defensive could come back to bite you.
  • It's a small world, and industries are even smaller. Companies buy up competitors every day. People change jobs. And if you stay in one industry long enough, there is a very real chance that you could wind up selling for a company you've been insulting. I've seen it happen. How do you back-pedal out of that one? "Um, yeah, I did say these products suck, but now I that I really understand them, it turns out they are much better than what I was selling before." Riiiiiiight.
In my own business, we're proud of our relationships with our competitors and we have even developed good friendships with several. In fact, if we're sure we don't have a product a customer wants, we'll make a direct introduction to another company that does. It's the right thing to do for the customer (who is likely to come back to you as a result), and it shows your competitor (who may reciprocate, or even buy your business some day) that you are a stand-up person and a quality company, beyond reproach.

I can't think of a single time when a negative sales pitch worked on me, nor can I think of a single competitor-bashing salesperson I admire or respect. Taking the high road in business (as in life) will rarely steer you wrong.

Read more:

Flickr photo courtesy of baronsquirrel, CC 2.0
  • Michael Hess On Facebook»

    Michael is an entrepreneur who has launched businesses including Skooba Design and Hotdog Yoga Gear travel bag brands, as well as Journeyware Travel Outfitters. Michael sold his company in 2014 and is now focused on writing, speaking and consulting. Learn more about his ventures at www.businesswithclass.com.