Salespeople and prospects rarely want to talk about the same things. You want to talk about the buyer’s budget, timeline, and role in the decision making process, while the buyer wants to talk about pricing and the nuts and bolts of the product.
This conflict is especially clear when your prospect brings up the competition. It would be great to keep the focus on your own product -- but if you say too little (or nothing at all), you’ll miss an opportunity to differentiate it from their other options. Say too much, and you typically come across as insecure or desperate.
To walk this line and ultimately win the deal, follow these six guidelines.
1) Acknowledge the Elephant in the Room
You and your prospect both know you’re biased. So why would they ask for your opinion on the competition in the first place? Sometimes, it’s a sign of trust: The buyer believes you’ll put their interests first, even though you have a financial incentive not to.
But sometimes, it’s a test. Your prospect is trying to figure out whether you’ll steer them the right way or give them bad information.
Rather than ignoring the elephant in the room, call it out. Say, “Obviously, I have skin in the game. Happy to answer all of your questions, but I can also point you to some third-party resources you might find helpful.”
Your transparency will make you seem 10 times more trustworthy; plus, you’ll set the tone for a candid conversation.
2) Use External Reviews
While you might not be able to convince the buyer yourself, a third-party review will be very persuasive. Look for testimonials comparing you and your competition where you come out ahead -- maybe from a customer who switched to your product after using a rival one or one who trialed several different tools before choosing yours.
If your prospect asks, “How do you compare to [competitor]?” or “What do you think about [competitor]?”, you can respond:
“That’s a good question. I’m going to send you a review from a customer who [moved over to us after X amount of time, chose our product after evaluating Y different ones, went with my company for Z reasons]. If you have any questions after reading it, I’m more than happy to answer them.”
If you can’t find any online reviews, look for happy clients or users in similar situations. Then ask them to write testimonials that you can send to future buyers. Or, if you work a relatively small number of high-value deals, see if the customer is willing to act as a reference.
3) Turn the Question Around
To avoid talking about the competition and refocus on your product and the buyer’s situation, try these responses:
“Before we go down that road, may I ask why you’re interested in that?”
“Quick question first: Is [use case, feature, result] one of your top considerations?”
“Would you say X is one of your ‘must-haves’?”
For example, if your prospect just asked, “How does your safety lock compare to Saltzer’s safety lock?”, you’d respond, “We can talk about that. But some context might help me give you a better answer. May I ask why you’re specifically interested in the safety lock?”
The buyer will normally say it’s a priority or key feature. Explain the strengths of your product in that aspect, then end with, “I think Saltzer could give you more details than me about their safety lock, so I’d ask them.”
4) Be Honest
Sometimes, honesty truly is the best policy. Tell the buyer, “I don’t want to comment on [competitor] because I’d hate to give you out-of-date information. They’re nice people over at [company] -- I’d recommend asking them.”
This matter-of-fact, straightforward reply will earn you points with your prospect and keep you from smearing the competition.
Alternatively, try a little levity: “I plead the fifth! But seriously, I steer clear of discussing [competitor] -- they’re the best people to ask about [competitor’s product]. Getting back to how [prospect’s company] could use [product] … ”
Politely yet firmly refusing to talk about your competition shows the buyer you’re a class act. More importantly, it suggests your offering is attractive enough to stand on its own.
5) Set the Record Straight (When Necessary)
Not everyone plays fair. You might discover one of your competitors is spreading misconceptions (or even complete lies) about your company, products, or clients.
Imagine a buyer lets you know she’s also considering Vendor X -- whose reps routinely mislead your prospects. The worst thing you can do is say, “Don’t believe what they tell you about Y or Z. They’re liars.” Not only will you sound like you doubt the buyer’s intelligence, you’ll also make the claim sound more believable by addressing it.
However, if you know what your competitor usually attacks, you can proactively bring up those elements in your sales conversation. Maybe they typically say your customer service is non-responsive. During your presentation, highlight your support team’s lightning-fast response time and high satisfaction ratings. This strategy will put your prospect’s mind at ease without directly calling out the competitor.
What if the buyer says, “Vendor X told me … ”?
According to sales consultant and trainer Jeff Hoffman, the most successful response is simply: “That’s not true.” This statement will satisfy most prospects. If they still don’t believe you, they’ll ask a follow-up question.
6) Lose the Deal
High-performing salespeople understand that winning the war often means losing the battle. In other words, if you realize the competition is a much better fit, be honest with your prospect.
Here’s a sample soundbite:
"Based on what you’ve told me about your [budget, use case, objectives, needs], I think [competitor] might be a better fit. But if you know anyone that fits [2-3 buyer criteria], I’d love an introduction."
Buyers are blown away by this level of genuine service. They’ll reward you with positive word-of-mouth, referrals -- and if and when their situation changes, new business.
Some prospects will even say, “[Competitor] might be a better fit product-wise, but based on how well you’ve treated me before I’ve even become a customer, I’d rather go with you.”
It doesn’t matter who you work for or what you sell -- you have competition. And that means buyers want to talk about their other options. Instead of staying silent, or equally damaging, going on a rant, earn your prospect’s trust and influence their opinion by using these six strategies.
Originally published Jun 5, 2017 7:30:00 AM, updated January 20 2021