Running down your competition is not just bad form; it's bad strategy. Most buyers see negative commentary about competitors as unprofessional and self-serving...because it is.
However, business is not a tea party; it's a rugby match. Unsophisticated buyers often are duped by the claims of other companies, aka your competitors. The best strategy is to help your prospects see through the noise and smoke by providing them better lenses through which to see the market and the competition. With those lenses, you and your competition can be scrutinized and let the truth carry the decision.
Building the right lenses --
Let's start with the premise that for every buyer there is a supplier, but that just like match-making, certain qualities have to match up. Instead of arguing whether a competitor is good or bad, focus the conversation on why certain competitors are right for certain customers based upon the conditions and requirements of the customer. Help the customer to self-diagnose what their condition is and come to the conclusion that in their set of circumstances, even though the competitor might be a good company, YOUR company is the right fit for their condition.
Here are the 3 lenses you need to build for your prospect to help them see that the solution you provide is the best fit for them:
1. Timing Lens -- Help your prospect to determine where they are in their buying curve. Are they an early adopter, a fast-follower or a late market buyer? Each of these timing conditions comes with different needs from a provider. Training is the need for one, service for the other, price or terms on the other. The point is that you can shape the lens by getting agreement as to who your prospect is in the Timing lens, what their needs are and why you are the fit. One of my clients put it to a prospect this way: "Because you are an early adopter of new technical solutions, you are used to working with highly responsive development teams as well as highly flexible teams in the solution construction. You also expect this to happen fast. If you were willing to accept 4 week turnaround cycles and operate with a fixed solution platform, we would not be the right firm, you should go with 'X' - but that's not you." The focus is not on disparaging the competitor, but helping the buyer to see themselves clearer.
2. Problem Lens -- There are classes of problems. These can be driven by size, technology, complexity, geography and so on. The point is that depending on the level of problem, you need to fit the right provider to the right level. If you over-engineer a solution, you are overpaying as a buyer. If you deal with someone who has to stretch to meet your sophistication, you are underserved. "Never dig flower boxes with back-hoes or canyons with spoons." If there are 5 levels of problems based on difficulty, scale or volume, can you define those for your prospect base? If you can, define which 1-2 of those levels you are best to serve and why. Now take your competitors and assign their corresponding level. This creates a lens for your buyer you can describe and discuss, which allows the buyer to decide at what level he or she needs their service provider to be, and brings into focus your best fit position.
3. Service Lens -- For each industry there are associated service requirements. Response times, reports and data availability, ease of ordering and handling changes, as well as transparency to work in process, are all examples. To build the service lens, you need to determine the key categories for your industry. Not every customer needs 7x24x365 service or can pay for it. Likewise, if my server blows up and my online portal is compromised, I don't want a 48-hour service appointment promise. Similar to the Problem Lens, create your Service Lens so that your customer can accurately assess their service to cost expectation and place their needs in the context of the competitive landscape, seeing you as the tailor fit.
Customers do not always know their place in the market, so they don't know how to discern the best provider for them. Help customers look at themselves and their needs first through the lenses you provide, then turn the lenses around on the competitive landscape. Chances are they will find you to be the clear choice.
For more tips and tricks on coming out the obvious winner in your buying process, sign up for my upcoming webinar - Throwing Your Competition Under the Bus Without Leaving Fingerprints - this Friday 12/9.