Feb 19, 2020 • Podcast

How do I sell value without badmouthing the competition (even if they suck)?

Paul shares three tips to help you sell against a (sucky) competitor without badmouthing them.

Show Notes

“We all have that one competitor that everyone loves to hate.” 

It’s shocking how some customers choose a solution that is vastly inferior to other alternatives. Yet, these same decision makers are not likely to change. “Even if the competitor is really terrible, there are still a few customers that like them.”

Have you ever noticed that people have trouble admitting they’re wrong? “When people make any decision, they feel the need to justify their decision.” The buyer’s need to justify their decision can cloud their vision of a better alternative. 

“People love sticking with what is familiar.” The status quo is a formidable competitor. The fear of the unknown is greater than sticking with a subpar solution.

When you’re selling against a sucky competitor, try these three things…

“Call attention to your strengths by…”

“Recruit internal champions to help you…”

“The buyer’s ego might get in the way of accepting your idea. So, instead of offering the same solution try…”


Our show is updated weekly with the questions you ask. So, please go to the home page, subscribe, share it with your friends, but most importantly, ask the question that you want answered. 

The Q and A Sales Podcast is edited by The Creative Impostor Studios.

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How do I sell value without badmouthing the competition (even if they suck)?

(Transcribed from podcast)

Today we have a great question: How do you sell value without badmouthing the competition (even if the competitor really sucks)?

A few weeks ago, I was in a training seminar and a salesperson said, “Paul, here’s what I’m looking to get from this session. I’ve got this one competitor who is just a thorn in my side. I can’t talk bad about them, but they just suck! How do I sell against them without badmouthing them?”

I get it. This is certainly a challenge. We all have that one competitor out there that everyone just loves to hate. I’ll give you a few tips and ideas on how you can overcome this challenge.

The first thing we’ve got to remember…I often tell salespeople when they’re going up against a good quality competitor, no matter how great your competitor is (or they think they are), there’s always going to be a handful of customers that they’ve managed to tick off. They dropped the ball; they didn’t deliver when expected; whatever it is, no matter how great the competitor, they always have some customers that don’t like them.

The opposite of that is also true. No matter how terrible the competitor is, no matter how much the suck, there’s always going to be a few of your customers who think that they’re great. The reason could be a number of things: they just got lucky and were able to deliver on the expectations this customer has; the customer has low expectations. But even if a competitor is really terrible, there are still going to be a few customers out there that really like them. You’ve got to keep that in mind. They are going to have a loyal following. There’s always going to be a certain percentage of customers that just like working with them.

The other thing that you’ve got to remember, when you’re trying to sell against a competitor and that competitor is terrible and you don’t want to badmouth them, you do have to remember that the person that decided to go with that competition, feels the need to justify their decision. They feel the need to reinforce that they did make a good decision, even if they know they made a terrible decision. I’ll give you an example of this.

Several years ago, I bought this suit. The suit was on sale. They didn’t have my ideal size in stock, but they did have a size that was slightly smaller. Since I liked the way the suit looked, I said, “You know what? I’ll buy it and maybe I’ll lose a few pounds.” How many of you have ever bought clothes in the hopes of trimming down a little bit in the mid-section? I ended up buying this suit. It didn’t fit me all that great, but when I wore it, I felt the need to justify it. I would continue to tell myself, “I made the right decision. This suit looks good.” Finally, someone gave me some harsh feedback.

He said, “Paul, you know the movie Tommy Boy when Chris Farley does the ol’ fat-guy-in-a-little-coat scene?”

I said, “Oh yeah. I remember that.”

He said, “I couldn’t help but think about that when I looked at your suit.”

Talk about some straight feedback. That was enough for me to realize maybe I just didn’t have the right suit. But, initially, I would wear it several times just because I wanted to prove to myself that I made a good decision.

The same is true for your customers. The prospect that you’re going after, that is doing business with one of your terrible competitors, is trying to justify their decision. They’re looking for all of the positive things about that competitor, and they’re focusing on that. They’re selling themselves on the decision they made. They don’t want to admit that they made a bad decision. We’ve got to be aware of that when we’re trying to sell against a competitor.

The third thing we’re going to acknowledge is the Status Quo Bias. People like to stick with what is familiar. They like to stick with what they know, with what they trust and believe in. This creates a challenge. Even if what they know isn’t all that great, their biggest concern is switching to something that is unknown; something that could be worse.

Just to give you an example of how powerful this bias is…Back in 2014, the congressional approval rating in the US was 11 percent. That’s a historic low. We, as Americans, believed that only 11 percent of congress was doing a good job with what we voted them in to do. That same year, the re-election rate was 96 percent. We re-elected almost all of the congressional members that we admitted were doing a terrible job. The reason we did that was because the biggest concern we had was not the people that were in office, it was the ones that could be in office. The fear of that unknown forced us to tighten our grip on the status quo.

The same is true for your customers. They’re current supplier might not be the greatest. They might “suck,” as this salesperson said. But, the biggest concern they have is the unknown. Are you going to be able to deliver at the expectation that has been set? Are you going to be worse? That’s their big concern.

We’re going to give you three tips to sell against a competitor without badmouthing them.

The first tip we’re going to look at is targeted probing. Targeted probing is about asking questions that call attention to your strengths and also call attention to your competitor’s weakness. This idea of targeted probing actually stems from a book that I read a number of years ago, Thinking Fast and Slow,by Daniel Kahneman. It’s a great book. I highly recommend it. It’s one of the best ding-dong books that I’ve ever read. Pick up a copy of it.

In this book, they talk about an experiment in Germany or Sweden at a university. There were two groups of students. The first group of students were asked these two questions:

How happy are you?

How many dates have you recently been on?

They asked the second group the same two questions, only they reversed the order:

How many dates have you recently been on?

How happy are you?

If you think about that, just by changing the order of those questions, something happened. For the first group, when they were asked, “How happy are you” then, “How many dates have you been on,” there was no correlation between dates and happiness. But, with the second group who were asked first “How many dates have you been on” then, “How happy are you,” they tied happiness to the number of dates. The more dates that people (the second group) went on, the happier they were.

We’re going to do something similar with targeted probing. In sales, it’s common to ask your customers or prospects how happy are you with your current supplier (or how satisfied are you)? Before we ask that question, we need to ask a few targeted questions to anchor happiness and satisfaction to your value-added strengths. For example, the number of locations you have as a company is a strength; the number of service technicians you have could be a strength; your engineering support compared to this other company that is terrible. You have strengths in all those areas so you want to ask about those. You could start off by saying, “How convenient are the locations of your current provider?” Or, “From a service standpoint, how quickly is the service tech with your current provider responding?” Or, better yet, “How would you rate the engineering support at your current provider?” Or, “What’s the technical capabilities of your current solution?”

You want to ask questions that draw attention to your strengths, and then, you ask that follow-up question, “How satisfied are you with your current provider?” And, what you’ve effectively done is taken your strengths and anchored them to their happiness and satisfaction. You’re starting to cast a little bit of doubt. You’re getting them to think differently.

The second tip is to get some internal champions at this opportunity that can give the direct feedback that you’re not allowed to give. As a professional salesperson, you can’t go in there and badmouth your competitor. But, if the internal champions (employees) that are on your side badmouth the competition to their own internal team, that’s a much better route to go. Their opinion is going to be more persuasive than what you’re saying. They are part of the internal team; they’re in the know; they experienced some of the failures, the problems. Part of your role is going to be bringing these internal champions on board with you, meeting with them, having them share their thoughts with the key decision maker. Again, if the internal champions are badmouthing that competitor, it lets you off the hook and is also a little more persuasive. I would identify who those internal champions are that you can build a relationship with—that you can work with—and then, eventually, get them on your side.

The third piece is a technique we call offering a new decision. If the key decision maker that you’re interacting with has made a bad decision to go with a terrible alternative, they’re going to feel a need to protect that decision. There’s going to be an ego factor at play where they don’t want to admit they made a bad decision. What you need to do is offer them something new. Offer them a new service; offer them a new package; offer them something new that wasn’t available to them before, because that will let them off the hook. Think about it from a buyer’s perspective…if you made a bad buying decision and later on there’s a new alternative that can replace the bad decision that you made, it gives you an out. You can say to yourself and anyone else that is part of the decision making process, “This just wasn’t available when I made the original decision.” By giving them a new decision to make, you’re letting them off the hook for the bad decision they previously made.

A quick recap. When you have a competitor out there that’s terrible, don’t badmouth them. Instead, what you need to do is some targeted probing. Ask questions that call attention to your strengths. Get some internal champions onboard with you and let them deliver that direct feedback to the buyer. And, finally, offer that decision maker a new decision. A new decision will let them off the hook.

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