Did you hear the one about my competition?

I’ve often been told you should never knock your competition, but what if the prospect himself brings it up? How can I pass up an opportunity like that?

When you hear your competition falling down on the job, it is tempting to want to tell everyone on your prospect list. Most salespeople agree that you shouldn’t knock the competition, but somehow, salespeople keep doing it and even get dragged into it by an unsatisfied customer.

Think about how you feel when a salesperson tells you about his competitors’ poor service. What happens inside your head? Most of the time, we question the integrity and the credibility of the salesperson, not the competition he is knocking.

If you’ve done business with the competitors before, you may even find yourself defending them and the decision you made to use them in the first place. You think to yourself, “Why is this guy telling me this? Hey, I’ve done business with the competition before, and they weren’t as bad as this salesperson is saying.”

When you start talking negatively about your competitors, your prospect will naturally start to think about their positive attributes.

The secret to amplifying your prospect’s discontent, while maintaining your credibility, is through assumptive questioning. When questioning your prospects about their dissatisfaction, you need to assume that the competition is as professional as you would be in the same situation to fan the flames of the prospects’ discontent.

Suppose your prospect says he’s unhappy with the fact that your competition mistakenly sent him the wrong part. Our tendency would be to roll our eyes and say something like, “I hear they do that all the time.”

Instead, go the other way with something like this: “That’s surprising, because I’ve always thought they were very conscientious. When they discovered the mistake, I’m sure they sent their design engineer to fix the problem.”

Chances are, they didn’t correct the problem or your prospect wouldn’t still be upset. At this point, your prospect will continue to complain, amplifying his discontent. At the same time, you’ve planted the seed in his head (without looking like you were bragging) that you would have handled the mistake very differently. But, whatever you do, don’t knock the competition.

My sales reps with the worst closing ratios seem to be the ones who have the most industry experience and the best knowledge of our products. How do I explain this?

Many experienced salespeople are extremely anxious to tell their prospects about their products and services. Yet they often leave a sales call bewildered as to why they didn’t get an order. You’ll here them say, “I answered all of their questions and told them every reason why they should buy, but nothing happened?”

From the time we are small children, we are conditioned to have the right answers and to deliver those answers when asked. Experienced salespeople often engage in the adult version of “Show & Tell.” If your salespeople are dropping off information, proposals or marketing materials, or trying to impress their prospects with their wealth of knowledge and industry expertise without really understanding their buying motives, they are spilling their candy in the lobby.

Once prospects have your information and pricing, they don’t think they need the salesperson anymore. The salesperson’s leverage is gone and he or she has lost the opportunity to help the prospects uncover the underlying reasons they should buy.

Salespeople must learn to question a prospect’s motive for asking for information before they provide the answers. Why a prospect asks for information is more important than what they ask. Prospects aren’t entitled to a salesperson’s information until the salesperson fully understands their buying motives, their budget money and how they make decisions.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based sales training and consulting firm. Send him your comments and questions via fax to (724)933-9224 or e-mail him at [email protected]. Reach him by phone at (724) 933-9110.