Should You Talk With Customers About Competitors?
Not long ago, I read an exchange about how we should talk to our customers about out competitors. Some felt we should take a “leadership” position, offering our views and insights to the customer.
Frankly, I was appalled with some of the opinions in that discussion. We have no business talking about our competitors products and business. I don’t make that statement because of any sort of high-minded position about fair play, it’s simply a no-win discussion for us to conduct.
First, we don’t know anything about their products and companies—far too many sales people struggle to understand their own products and company positioning. Sure, we may have seen their products or even used them, we may have read the competitors’ annual reports, looked at their websites, content and tried to learn about them. But we will never know our competitors better than their sales people.
Trying to take a position on them and their products can only make us look bad. The customer will verify anything we say with the competitor. So we’ve given them the opportunity to show how wrong we are.
Second, the customer is looking at the competitor for a reason; if we start blindly trashing the competition, we are also trashing the customer and their thinking. We are de-legitimizing their buying process without understanding the choices they are making.
Stay Neutral and Win
At the same time, we can’t ignore the competition. We serve our customers and position ourselves optimally not by attacking or taking a position on the competition, but by helping the customer identify the critical issues they should be considering in their buying process:
- What are the things they should be thinking about and why are they important to the decision?
- What questions should they be asking and why? (Not only of the competition, but of us, as well.)
- What are they seeking to achieve? What are the risks? What should they be thinking about to manage those risks?
- How have others managed similar buying journeys, and what can the customer learn from them?
- What can we do that is most helpful to the customer to address the problems and opportunities they seek to address? How can we help facilitate their buying journey?
If, at the end of this process, they choose our competitors, then they have made a great decision. We should learn what we can from them, so that we can improve.
Having said that, I suspect if we do this with rigor and care, we will win. The probability that your competitor is creating as much value is very low.