Don’t make this mistake when talking about the competition

When I was in sales, I was almost always in a competitive situation. Whether I was responding to a request for a proposal (RFP) or trying to develop a relationship with a prospect who was using a competitor’s equipment, I became accustomed to not being the “only game in town.”

honor and dishonor by stuart miles

Although competitors can keep us on our toes and might even bring out our “A game”,  managing competitive threats with clients and prospects can also drain us of energy and tempt us to make the common mistake of “bashing competitors”. But taking this “low road” is never a good strategy, and there is some very good research that helps us understand why this is the case.

Let me provide a couple of techniques that you can use to help you when you are talking with prospects and candidates who are evaluating other companies or career opportunities. But first, a brief refresher in psychology.

 Spontaneous trait transference

A study reported in the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed a common — yet somehow unconscious psychological phenomenon — called spontaneous trait transference. According to the researchers, spontaneous trait transference plays a major role in how people form impressions of others.

Here’s how it works. When someone says something either positive or negative about someone else, the listener will somehow automatically attribute the same (either positive or negative) trait to the speaker. So the “trait” that the speaker is referring to (about someone else) subconsciously transfers right back to the speaker!

Here’s a concrete example of how this might work in recruiting. Let’s say that during a screening or prospecting call, you find that the other person is actively weighing other opportunities with your key competitors. After learning that you are up against a competitor, you share some information about your competitor that is unfavorable or unflattering — hoping to create fear, uncertainty or doubt in your prospect’s mind about the value your competitor can provide — thus, you hope, tipping the scales in your favor.

According to spontaneous trait transference, however, your candidate or prospect  will likely attribute those same (unfavorable or unflattering) traits right back to you, or to your company, and/or to your career opportunities!

In other words, if you say that your competitor’s work environment is hostile or not open to work-life balance, your prospect will likely believe that your company also has a hostile work environment and is not open to work-life balance.

Try these practical strategies

So what is the best way to try and provide a competitive advantage without falling into the trap of spontaneous trait transference?

First, be sure you have mastered some basic selling skills. Take the time to understand what is important to your prospect and be skillful and targeted in your value proposition.

Be diligent and thorough during the “discovery” phase of your screen or prospecting call. Be crystal clear on the things that are important to the other person when making a career decision. Ensure you have a complete list of the factors that will be used in the decision-making process.

Develop a tailored, unique value proposition — using the decision-making criteria you identified during discovery. Ensure that you completely and truthfully align your solution with what’s important to your prospect. Pay particular attention to confirming that what you are sharing indeed aligns with what is important to the other person. Be careful about making assumptions about interest, and watch out for excessive “selling” or talk time on your part.

Do your homework. Before you engage with prospects and candidates, have a thorough and rich working knowledge of your “product.” Be ready with short (“just like you”) stories that will reinforce how your opportunity can meet/exceed the requirements of your prospect or candidate. Great recruiters — and great sales professionals — know their product very, very well.

Once you have established a firm foundation – using these important selling skills — then you may also want to address your competitor, but be careful. Use positive phrases and make calculated comparisons. For example, you might say something like, “Yes, I know XYZ Company. They are a good company …”  Then bring your prospect back to what you can provide — the unique value you talked about earlier on your call and confirm if there are any concerns or questions that would keep the person from moving forward with your company or opportunity.

Or you might even say something like, “Yes, I am familiar with XYZ Company. They have a good reputation in our marketplace …”  Then you might try something like, “We actually have hired many great teammates who came from XYZ …

Then proceed to once again reinforce how others have found value at your company — but only share this if the value is relevant to what’s important to your prospect. And, of course, be sure to be honest when making your statements.

Again, be very careful to keep the tone positive, truthful and tailored to what is of value to your prospect. When you are tempted to badmouth the competitor, stop yourself. Don’t accidentally leave yourself open to spontaneous trait transference.

I remember when I was young, my mother always said, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone don’t say anything at all.” Guess mother was right!

Image courtesy of stuart miles

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