Raise your hand if you like negative campaign ads.

No hands? I’m not surprised. It’s hard to imagine that anyone does. They’re ugly, depressing and usually twist truths out of context.

Sure, I know they’re designed to put doubts in voters heads – like crafty litigators who say something inadmissible in court even if the judge tells the jury to ignore what they just heard.

But isn’t the objective in sales to get our customers to vote for us, not against our competitors?

Your prospects and customers can buy many of the same products or services you sell from a million other people.  But they can only get you from you. That’s your differentiator. Your creativity. Your integrity. Your enthusiasm. Your reliablity. Your follow up. Your experience. In the precious few minutes of face time you get with your clients and prospects don’t you want them to fall in love with you, to learn how good you are, and all the ways that you can meet their needs? If you really are better than your competitor, if your product or service is truly a better value, that should come shining through without disparaging your competitor.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t ever mention your competition.  If you’re being asked to meet a competitor’s price on a bag that’s half the weight or size or quality of yours, then of course you should do a point by point comparison.  Product and service comparisons are often part of any good buyer’s due diligence.  But respect your competitor and do it ethically and accurately.

There are lots of good examples of companies who have been able to effectively tout their strengths and their competitors weaknesses in a single message.  Think of Avis’ “We Try Harder” campaign against market leader Hertz.  Or the campaign of another number two, the spectacularly successful Apple  “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” campaign showing how easily their cool guy got things done versus the nerdy and kludgy PC.   Classy.  Effective.  Respectful.

Both of these campaigns are actually complimenting their competition.  If Hertz and PCs weren’t beating the pants off of Avis and Apple in market share then neither one would have spent so many millions focusing on them.

Complimenting your competition is often a great way to win the respect and appreciation of your prospect.  You’re saying, “You did a good job in selecting that company.” Certainly you’ll want to point out what you do differently or product categories where your company shines against the competitor.  But you’ve respected your competitor in the process and your customer will appreciate it.

I recently had a conversation with the compliance manager of a major distributor who was surveying suppliers about their product safety programs.  She told me some information about a major competitor that I knew wasn’t true.  I could have just moved to the next subject but I didn’t.  I told her that I didn’t think the information she had was correct and I gave her the email address of the CEO of that supplier to get it clarified.  Then I emailed the CEO myself to give him an opportunity to get it fixed.  Crazy?  I don’t think so. First of all, it was the right thing to do.  Second, sooner or later this situation is going to pay dividends.  It’s a small world we live in, particularly in the promotional products industry, and to a borrow an old cliche, what goes around, comes around.  People appreciate honesty and especially when they know it is potentially to your disadvantage.  At that point you become a trusted advisor, which is the most coveted position you can have with a customer.

Sell your strengths. Respect your competitors. And remember this: The most successful among us got that way because they had the best value proposition for their customers. Focus on that and you’ll never have to worry about your competitors.

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