In our business, we have many competitors who are good at what they do. And we’re happy to say so.

But we have one that is truly, deeply trashable.

How trashable, you ask? Think of them as the Pontiac Aztek of sales training. Or the hippopotamus in the tutu from Fantasia. The Cross Bronx Expressway. The ignorant loud-mouth uncle at your Thanksgiving dinner. Got the picture?

Of course, one of the Ten Commandments of sales is: Thou shalt not speak ill of competitors. But it would be malpractice to remain silent about this company. Children might suffer. Animals could be harmed.

So what can I say to the hapless prospect who innocently says, “Oh, we’re also considering….”?

If you can’t say something nice

Dave Kahle, a widely respected sales and sales management trainer, lists four techniques he has found to work:

  • Focus on your offer, not the competition’s. What’s most important is not what a competitor is offering, but how well you have understood your buyer and presented a solution that does exactly what he or she requires. In the final analysis, what does it matter to you what the competition does, as long as you’ve done your job as well as you could? Although you may be well acquainted with the competition’s product or service, you don’t want your customer conversation to focus on comparatives, but rather on how you can meet the buyer’s needs.
  • When you do address the competition, speak in general terms. Remember, you don’t want to appear to be dissing any competing company or rep. So talk about a class of competitors rather than one particular one. If, for instance, you want to make a favorable comparison between your locally based company and a national competitor based far away, you might say: “As a rule, large national companies are more concerned about their financial performance than the needs of local customers. Since we’re local, we’re able to provide more personal service.”
  • Leverage the power of questions. You don’t have to make disrespectful statements about competitors to put doubts about them in the buyer’s mind. A few strategic questions can get the buyer wondering, and drawing his or her own conclusions. For instance, you wouldn’t want to say of a competitor, “Company X doesn’t have the customer service you’re going to need over time.” But you could ask, “Have you asked the other vendors you’re talking to how strong their customer service function is? Because that’s going to be very important for you in the long run.” Smart buyers will get the message.
  • Use visual aids. Want to completely avoid using words when describing the competition? Good charts and graphs may do the trick. Comparative charts — perhaps using check boxes for features and benefits that are present or missing in the competing offers — can point out the differences between you and your competitors in a detailed way that comes across as dispassionate and professional.

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