Could this be the most negative campaign ever? It seems we ask this question during each election cycle. Each candidate vilifies the other party (and in party I mean the other person… as well as their political party). Though polls note that voters dislike negative campaigns, the unfortunate reality is that voters are also influenced by their claims. People treat negative campaign messages as fact, regardless of the context or accuracy of the claims.
Each campaign says they will reduce taxes. Their opponent emphatically claims that the other candidate is going to raise taxes. This negative tone seems to work, though.
So, you might think “maybe some good old-fashioned mud-slinging could help me against my competition in business?” Not so much. Businesses tend to be more thorough when buying a copier than citizens are when voting for the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet.
But, let’s say that you have a superior product or service compared to the competition? What if your competitor keeps missing deadlines? What if they have a reputation for going over budget?
What can you do?
You and I can never speak negatively about the competition. No matter how you do it, you’ll sound slimy and might lose trust with your client or potential client. Keep in mind that no matter what you and I might say, our clients and prospects believe their own words more than anyone else’s words.
Three steps to make your points without being dirty
There are three distinct steps that you can take to illustrate the differences and get the client to consider evaluating the facts:
- Demonstrate Impact. Our clients or prospects may not be in touch with the impact of a particular issue. It is our job to educate them on the potential impact.Let’s say you perform a specific task on a fixed-price basis, and your competitor charges by the hour for the same task. Your fixed fee is $30,000. You might say “Our clients appreciate knowing that this project is $30,000 without risk. When we used to do this on an hourly basis, it would cost $25,000 in a best case, but sometimes it would cost $60,000. That variance drove our clients crazy. Which approach is more comfortable for you?”
- Is it important? Just because you and I think something is important does not mean our client or prospect has to share that view. Let’s say you are an architect, and you know that the competitor tends to be inflexible about alternatives that could save the client money during construction.You could ask “Our clients tell us that they appreciate how we work with them to find alternatives to original design concepts that can save them money without sacrificing much. How important is that for your project?”
- What about their reputation? Maybe you know that your competitor consistently wins with an early delivery date, and then is always late. In this case, you can’t call them out. But, you can encourage the client to investigate the issue:“Our clients can’t afford to plan for one date, only to end up with delays and missed deadlines. So, we plan conservatively to factor in certain contingencies to avoid surprises. Proposing a best-case scenario just ends up with great disappointment and inconvenience. We know that not everyone in our industry works that way. Do you ask for three references on projects performed in the past six months from each vendor?”In this example, you are raising the issue, and then providing a simple template for them to follow with specifics such as “three projects in the past six months.”
The bottom line is that you can never, ever say something negative about the competition. But, you can certainly ask questions that illustrate the impact and importance of your differentiation, and help provide a formula for the client to compare all parties.
I look forward to hearing about your stories of nasty competition… just not about politics.