Going to Battle Against the Competition

This post is inspired by an incident I encountered here in Silicon Valley a few weeks ago.

If I am half way through a meeting and my prospect asks how we compare to a competitor; I have failed my job.

If I create enough excitement; if I create a talk track which is unique, compelling and speaks to their core pain points – their thoughts should only be on me and what I am; not focused on what I am not.

A few days ago, I attended a meeting with a Fortune 100 company – looking to spend six figures on our software. Coincidentally – they had been pitched by our competitor the week before.

At the beginning of the meeting – the prospect confided in me saying that I “looked a lot nicer” than what they had been told.

Confused I asked what they had said.

My prospect revealed that I had been called a ‘hillbilly’ and inexperienced – making fun of the cowboy hat I wear to meetings.

Inside, sure I was a little fired up. The rugby playing days tend to do that to me I admit.

Instead, I took the opportunity to tell the room a story.

“Who here has at least one child?” Many raised their hands.

How many times has your kid come home from school and complained about someone making fun of them for what they look like or how they act? How did this make you feel?” There was general consensus around the room.

“I don’t like to talk poorly about my competition. Instead I prefer to let the quality of our relationship and the way it will build over time govern your choice for us to work together. However I will say that the way in which they have talked about me; someone they have never met – potentially highlights the kind of culture you may encounter as you enter further negotiations. The decision to target a young 25 year old young man trying to make it in America 7,500 miles from home is something I never want my staff to resort to in the future – I’m sure you’d agree?”

After a general nod of heads; not once did we mention the competitors name again. Although these deals typically take months, I’ll eat my hat if we don’t win the deal.

You see, often it’s not what you say but what you don’t say that truly defines you.

By refusing to disparage my competition I set myself above the 99% of other business executives who lead with the negative, instead of creating knowledge of the positive.

There are times where I will need to obviously address my competitors but if I do so I like to address this in three ways.

The first is that I highlight my obvious vendor bias – but attempt to frame myself impartially and objectively – as if I was really in their shoes. What helps is that I have been in roles similar to my clients on many occasions so I truly can speak from experience. Statements which help me include:

When I was in a role similar to yours last year – I was going through the same motions and found…

I think it is important to consider a mix of all the solutions in the market but if you were to focus your energy here I believe…

Right now I am trying to separate myself from my role here and if I was to truthfully talk as a peer I think…

The second strategy which works for me is to ask for permission. In alignment with the themes above- I believe this humble approach engenders trust and makes your statements seem less aggressive and more consultative – the line which works well for me is:

If you don’t mind me commenting on this as much as I can objectively…

The third and most revolutionary way is to invite my prospects to connect with my current customers to validate my claims – rather than completely trusting what I have presented in the meeting. Recently at my company – we have started using public reviews of our brand which have balanced pros and cons as a tool to provide further transparency in our deals. Furthermore – prospects can connect with the clients in the comments of these reviews making it less taxing that a standard reference call but potentially more engaging and definitely more convenient.

Ultimately – I take inspiration from Joshua Reeves, the CEO of Gusto which now is on the path to a billion dollar valuation. He told me that it isn’t important to focus on your competitors – as why would you vocalize your dissatisfaction with something you can’t fix in the world?

Instead – he recommended I direct my product team to purely work on developing better ways to help my existing customers founded solely upon their specific feedback.

The moral of the story is to always have personal integrity, address your competition strategically where needed but to focus more on leveraging the voice of your customers and to keep wearing the cowboy hat – it’s starting to become a Silicon Valley fashion icon.

About The Author

Dailius Wilson

Dailius Wilson is the 24 year old founder of WolfofYorkStreet.com – helping the world's top SaaS companies to optimise their sales and marketing efforts. Dailius is currently a Director at TrustRadius and a digital blogger at increasemyonlinebusiness.com. Dailius was named as one of the Top 30 Entrepreneurs in Australia for 2015 by Anthill Online and was ranked in the Top 100 SEO Experts in the World. Dailius has also been a guest on the Ellen Degeneres Show and has over 10,000,000 views on Youtube