A 20-something sales person and his manager sit across from Joan, a new prospect who holds the decision-making and spending power at her Fortune 1000 company. Joan agreed to the meeting at the request of a colleague who knows the sales manager.
Unbeknownst to the sales duo, Joan has just finished a crisp, pointed conversation with a vendor that had screwed up for the last time. Her pain, though, is the sales guys’ lucky break. The vendor is a competitor.
Despite being overbooked and juiced on anger, Joan offers her full attention to her visitors. Fifteen minutes into their slide deck, Joan cuts to the chase and asks the question that turns their golden opportunity into a burnt crisp: “Who’s your competition?”she asks.
She catches that classic flash of panic in the rep’s eyes — you know the kind…when the prospect asks a question that is to be answered with a well-rehearsed, canned response. To his relief (and their opportunity’s demise), the sales manager swoops in with this response:
Great question, and I’m glad you asked. We don’t have any direct competitors. In fact, we believe that we don’t have any true competition. What we do and how we do it is distinct from anyone out there.”
You know where I’m going with this, right? Joan had lobbed the proverbial slow pitch, and the sales manager not only struck out but swung like a rookie. He insulted an executive-level prospect by wasting her time with his answer.
He was either pompous or naive, and Joan didn’t care which. By acting coy about the competitive landscape, the sales manager drained his company of credibility. Joan wasn’t about to trust this company to solve her vendor-related problem if its own managers act clueless about her options.
Competitors strike a nerve in us — the mere mention of competitors pokes our reptilian brain. I once worked with an executive so fanatical about the topic that he forbade employees to use the C-word. There’s a difference between managing the topic in a sales call and literally operating out of competitive ignorance.
Bad Things Happen When You Ignore the Competition
- Your USP isn’t.
Unique is relative. To define your unique selling proposition, you have to start with a baseline. Distinction depends on comparison. Your prospects mentally won’t set you apart if you can’t demonstrate context.
- You sound like everyone else.
Yes, you — the one with your head in the sand. If you still describe your company with words such as customer focused, cutting edge, or flexible, consider yourself forgettable.
For a better look at the widespread use of meaningless phrases, check out Gobbledygook Manifesto, an analysis of cliched words used in press releases. Its author, David Meerman Scott, has released a 2008 analysis, and I encourage you to read it too.
- Prospects will think you’re either naive or pompous.
That’s a lose-lose situation, and word travels fast. Need I say more?
- You won’t know what it takes to keep a new client.
If you aren’t clear on why a client left their old vendor to buy from you, there’s a good chance you won’t recognize the signs when they decide to leave you too.
Here’s the moral to this story. Your stance on the competition says more about you than you realize and probably not at all what you want it to convey. If using the word competitor is just too hard for you to swallow — swap it out with the synonym your prospects use: CHOICE.
The Super Searchers Webpage (InfoToday)
Super Searchers on Competitive Intelligence (CyberAge Books)