Josh Bernoff on "Should you talk about your competitors?"

Josh Bernoff, a VP at Analyst firm Forrester, recently covered the topic of “Should you talk about your competitors”?  You can read his post here at Forrester’s Groundswell site.

The comments covered range from the fully endorsing to the firmly against. Obviously, you never want to give your competitors a free run. This is even more the case when you’re in a market where there are a few dominant players (think the Database or ERP market).  However, in this world of openness and web 2.0-style conversations, Josh raises the question whether this openness should extend to discussing things your competitors are doing. More importantly this extends to both good and bad things that they do.

I’ve already talked somewhat to this point in my Negative Selling post and why I think it’s a waste of time and demeans both yourself, your company and ultimately does the reverse of what you are trying to do. I believe this stands for all client-facing sales engagements. Negative selling does not mean you should remain quiet on your competitors. A solid knowledge of your competitors offerings will often be appreciated by customers, particularly if they have already spends hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars on solutions from your competitors. It is a very rare occasion for people to rip-and-replace large IT solutions these days, so bagging out products that your potential customer has put time and effort deploying is defeatist at best.  Having a conversation about how your solutions bring value to what your customers have already bought, brings a higher level of credibility and this is where you need to talk about your competitors in earnest.  “Yes Mr. Customer you made a safe bet with company X’s DB solution. Here’s how our connector for Data Warehousing makes that investment pay off”. Start small and cut off your competitor’s air supply. Work in conjunction with your competitor’s strengths and position your products strengths as the value add.

Communications and PR, however, is a bit of a different game. I’ve talked about how CI and PR make a good team, with CI helping to create messages that convey unique competitive differentiators. But there are a few more scenarios that have to do with market positioning.

  • If you’re #1 in a market. Don’t talk about your competitors.
  • If you’re below #1, and you are growing faster, have had competitive wins, etc. Talk about your growth vs. your competitors using impartial third-party analysis (Analyst reports).
  • If you’re new to a market, or the market is relatively young, talk about the market growth – not the competitors. (Your company’s growth will be massive, off a small base. Too easy to diffuse as a competitive strength).
  • If you’re in an established market and the positioning is fierce, only talk if you’re behind – and then only if you are doing something good. Never be negative. (I don’t believe pointing out that you are growing faster than a competitor is negative. Going a step further and saying that they are in peril of financial ruin, is. Don’t do the later.

While I blog, I’m not an expert in blogging, so I defer to Josh’s notion that its horses for courses when discussing competitors in an open forum. I think healthy open dialogue about your competitors activities makes sense, when you’re all moving to grow the market (everyone gets a bigger slice). Derogatory or hostile commentary is seen as childish and while it may be fun to watch a flame war, customers don’t need any more confusion creeping into their decision making process. As one of his posters comments, “If you don’t have anything nice to say…..”

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