The Single Worst Thing a Salesperson Can Do

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You’ll be wrong, you’ll lose respect, and you’ll send your customers running to your competitors. This is the worst possible thing you can do as a salesperson.

According to sales expert Dave Brock, there are three reasons why bashing your competition is an incredibly bad idea. In fact, it might even be the worst thing a salesperson can do.

1) You’ll likely be wrong. You may have done your research, but in all likelihood you don’t know every single detail pertaining to your company’s product offering and positioning. And if you get something wrong how does that make you look?

2) You’ll shift the customer’s focus from you to your competitor. When you talk about your competitor’s offering, you’re making them the base of comparison, Brock explains. Instead, keep the focus on you and the value you create. Doing so will establish you as the standard in your customer’s mind — and the level the competition has to rise to in order to compete.

3) You’ll lose your customers’ respect. “I have never seen a case where the customer respects it,” Brock says. There’s a major difference in competing on strengths and competing on weaknesses, and if you think customers respond better to the latter you’re sorely mistaken.

Photo by: hobvias sudoneighm

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  • Franz

    Fully agree !!!

    • Andy Patterson

      On advice from one of my Principals, I denigrated my opposition, lost the order, lost the customer’s trust, and all I can say is that this will never happen again! Focus on YOUR product, not the competitors!

  • thank you for the valuable insight dave! sometimes, even discussing your competitors by name in a positive light, much less negative, can shift the mental focus away from your offering.

    the american auto industry several years ago used to reference “even better than a camry,” which made me think about buying a camry; moreover, my old banker used to bash the other banks in town making me feel less warm when talking with him.

    thankfully, this problem does not plague my sales process.

    blake mendez

  • Agree with Dave. Bashing is the worst thing a salesperson can do. You are the one that is degrading your company by doing this. As a professional, you should focus on how you will be able to serve your customers not bash others.

  • Thanks for the comments. We want to keep the focus on us and the value we can create for customers. As I said i the piece, bashing the competition removes that focus and puts it on the competition.
    Edward, your comment about bashing Camry is right on. Look at how Honda (I think) is exploiting a similar concept in its current commercials (People comparing another care to a Honda– and the sales person’s responses).
    I appreciate the great discussion!

  • CCS

    The biggest point I think you could add is that a competitor today could be your next employer (think of the financial services industry).

  • Kevin

    It’s very possible that your customer or prospect is currently using your competitors product. By bashing the competitor you are essentially insulting the past product choices made by your prospect.

  • Dave Brock

    Wow, I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of the comments here. Bottom line, bashing the competition is a losing strategy. We’re much better off focusing the customer on the value we create!
    Thanks for a great discussion.

  • One of my late father’s axioms was “Never knock the competition” I always took that as Gospel. It usually went something like this: “They’re a terrific company and they do a great job, but…” and then I’d go into the positive reasons why we did a better job.

    This discussion makes me think of politics and all the negative advertising we’re subjected to. The pundits keep telling us it works, and they proffer certain results to prove it, such as how Mitt Romney took out his primary opponents–for example, Newt Gingrich in Florida. You can’t argue with concrete results like that, but I believe any politician would achieve greater results if he/she stuck to the positive road: “My opponent is a fine man and I believe he’d do an fine job, but…I’m running for this office because I believe I can do a better job, and these are the reasons why I believe that.” Then I’d list those reasons, contrasts. I believe the public would have great respect for a politician who approached running for office that way, and would likely support his/her candidacy. What do you think, Dave? Should I try to become a campaign manager? LOL!

  • Do not Knock the Competition.

    It is a good anecdote.
    It is certainly a sales axiom, but is it true?

    If we compared Competition Bashers to non-Bashers which group would be the most successful?

    Competitors worried Xerox in the 1990’s, so Xerox produced a series of Competitive Analysis Fact sheets. These compared the Xerox Unit to its main
    Competitors, highlighting both the Strengths of Xerox and the Weakness of the Competitors. Sometimes the list was very short!

    The more successful Salespeople used the sheets to highlight difference in DESIRED function.
    i.e. “We offer the fully automatic Double-sided Printing you said you needed, I understand that Competitor X is only able to offer semi-automatic Double sided Printing, which would require some Manual intervention.”
    This approach enables the Seller to keep the focus on OUR ability to meet the Customer’s explicit expressed needs. It also highlights the LOSS of a desired attribute or outcome from the Competitor.

    The less successful Salespeople used the sheets to highlight their strengths even if they were not required. “We offer fully automatic features for example Stapling, Collation and Double-sided printing, Competitor X cannot do those.”

    To which the Prospect replied,
    “That’s probably why they are a lot cheaper than you!”

    The answer appears to be “it depends” on how you use Competitive Knowledge.

    Rackham in his classic on Account Strategy uses the idea of “Vulnerability” the capability to meet the Customer’s Functional Buying Criteria.
    If you can meet it, then it is a Benefit,
    if your Competitor cannot meet a Customer Expressed Explicit Need,
    then they have a Drawback, which you could highlight.

  • Alexander Draaijer

    Bashing the competitor indirectly says that you and your company don’t have anything unique (differentiator) to offer. Focus on the pain / need and how you can help the prospect solve that

    • Dave Brock

      Great comment Alexander–keep the focus on the customer and what you can do for them!

  • worldwidewilli

    So true. To do it is to ridicule the customer for thinking about it. Never!

  • Wheelo

    I have found in the past that customers will sometimes do the competition bashing for you. Do NOT join in, but listen to what they say, they will give you insight into their needs from you and what they (the competitors) did wrong. Just make sure you don’t over promise what you can deliver. The old expression is you have one mouth and two ears, use them in that ratio..

    • Dave Brock

      Great comment! Sometime, unwittingly, customers can suck us into these discussions bashing the competition. It’s always a no win. Listening, using what they say to learn more about their needs and attitudes is critical.

  • Joe

    Tell that to Samsung. So tired of their asinine ads. Nobody cares about your stupid hipster functionalities

  • Dan Gillespie

    If you must discuss the competition, do it in your opening and then never mention them again. If the customer wants to share bad experiences about them, just listen with empathy. This approach minimizes them.

  • srsly

    I thought this was common knowledge. A person confident in their company/product/service doesn’t feel the need to put down another a competitor. Because they don’t see them as a competitor. When you take this view, and the customer/prospect can tell you sincerely are not concerned w/ what such and such a competitor is doing, they tend to adopt and buy into the same view. It’s a subtle way to convince them what you’re selling is superior. What you don’t say is just as important as what you do say. Remember that. And if your prospect brings up the competition — reason w/ them (you believe you’re better, tell them why) address there points and move on — no need to bash the other company.

  • Alfred

    Nonsense!! Of course you can and should bash the competition!! As long as fair and square, take the shot!! Business is at times like a contact sport, and you are not in real sales if you don’t bash either directly or indirectly. There are times to bash, and there are times to keep quiet. Just learn your style as to when and how best to pull the rug from under your competition. Does anyone remember “1984”? That was a classic bash by apple sales.

  • dave

    Also don’t poop on their desk

  • TexTide

    1. under-promise…over-deliver 2. do what you say you will do…there are two kinds of people in the world winners and losers…losers have an excuse for everything…winners ‘party’…(be a ‘party’ animal it’s more fun)

  • Razerzpeed

    This is crap….I know EXACTLY WHAT my competitor offers..(he says its impossible to know) its in their ads. I can easily highlight why my product is better. And it works…i pluck people from them daily. No one says..gee you dont have any integrity…so i will stay with an overpriced inferior product/company.

  • sammyzoso

    Not the worst thing you can do but not smart and not classy. Worst thing? Not ask for their business. Followed closely by not listening to the customer. Sales people generally talk too much.

  • guesthost

    Then why do negative political ads work so well?

  • PauvrePapillon

    When dealing with competitors, the best strategy is to complement them on what they do well… and then emphasize what you do better, cheaper or faster.nnBut let’s be clear on this. Pointing out the differences between your product or service and that offered by competitors is far from the worst thing a salesman can do… not even close.nnThe worst thing a salesman can do, and they do it all the time, is to fail to listen.

  • Right On!

    Back to the basics really.

  • sammy

    Had a cold-call closing ratio of 95% for 3 yrs and was tested by 3 universities.nCALCULATED statements against the competition HELPS the client! Example–I had to do this two days ago, re the use of Lynx and MS. Lynx is more open yet it willnrun fewer programs that are bought. MOST of us use MS NOT because we love itnbut because of its flexibility. We need to inform the client how our services/goodsnwill provide a simpler and less expensive outcome. nTHUS, Mr. Brock’s declarations are not accurate when 1,000s of customersnare interviewed; which is what I did and do!