Friday, March 04, 2005

Never Say Negative Things About Competitors

Never act so low on the food chain that you resort to telling your prospects about your competitors weaknesses. If those weaknesses are really a deal breaker, the prospect will find out for themselves. If it is a minor issue, you look like a fool. Always focus on your own company's competitive advantages, never talk about your competitors problems.

Recently some people left a firm to start their own company. Their entire marketing plan appeared to be bad mouthing the company they left and the inabilities/inexperience of those who still work there. The problem is that they seem to have nothing positive to say about their new company. Many never thought they were very seasoned business people when they worked at their old company, but now it is clear that they have no clue about business development, marketing and building long-term relationships in the community.

They sent emails to former clients warning them that the local office of the old could be closed down because they have left. They bragged about how they were the ones who did all the work and had all the knowledge. They claimed the reason they left was to better serve the clients from their own firm, where they would not have the head-aches of a big corporation. A few clients moved their business, but most took a "wait and see" approach. The longer they waited, the more they saw that the old company is doing just fine, and that the rest of the staff is experienced and delightful to work with. Many clients laughed about those that left.... stating that those who left must have giant egos.

I have learned over the years that people who leave to join competitors rarely bring as much business with them as they think they will. Unless you are very good at building and cultivating professional relationships, it is not as easy to bring a book of business with you. The problem is that most people have inflated opinions of themselves, so they think the clients LOVE them. The reality is the client probably likes you just fine, but they know they could like your replacement too.

Now these individuals are getting desperate, as they are not bringing in enough business to pay their bills. They are having a harder time getting their company started, and they are starting to hound their old clients. The good news for the former employer is that they are just hurting themselves. The other day one of them forwarded an news article about the old company to a list of contacts. He went so far as to highlight the negative parts in red, and tell the clients that they should move their business. Well this tactic backfired, as most who recieved the email felt that this was just bad business, and proclaimed they would not be associating with these people in the future. Now that proved to the former employer that the company was better off with all of them GONE. The sad part is that nobody would want to work with them again, or refer them to anyone. ... EVER. In a nitch industry, their actions could be career limiting if their own company fails.

Before you go negative, verbally or in writing, remember that your comments will get back to those people you disparaged. Additionally, remember that savvy business people see you as shallow and weak if all you can do is point out your competitors weakness. Other weak people who like gossip might enjoy this tactic, but that can only take you so far. Plus, these shallow people will switch again when a third competitor fills their head with stories about you. If your strengths do not warrant the focus of your sales pitch, you need a new job.

I hope these people all find the joy and fulfillment in their new venture that they were seeking. I am, however, amazed at how they have behaved. I am embarrassed for them. The demeanor of superiority they have taken with the situation is disturbing. In a competitive business you win some and lose some. I can't figure out how they expect to win in the long term if they can alienate so many former co-worker, clients, prospects and other VIP's in town.

When cultivating a professional network of contacts you must remember that treating EVERYONE with respect is important. I had one person tell me "If they can turn on those that they worked closely with, I distrust how they would treat me if our business relationship hit a tough patch." Amen.

There are two ways to leave a company....with class and grace....and the other way.

Remember....every action you take effects how you are viewed by others....good and bad. Here is a link to the best article I have ever read on the subject of branding yourself. It is from a 1997 Fast Company Magazine.

Thom Singer

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