Don’t Bad Mouth The Competition3 min read

The other day I met a business person and was chatting about the marketplace for his business – plumbing actually – and found myself listening to a small scale tirade attacking several of his competitors for what he felt to be “sleazy, slipshod practices”. This incident brought me back to thoughts about what I think is a proven business maxim, “Don’t Bad Mouth The Competition”.

The most obvious reason not to denigrate competitors is that it always distracts your potential customer or, worse, a current customer, from thinking about you and your products and services. If your customer brings up a competitor, this is an opportunity to learn more about what the customer wants and needs. Ask questions about what the customer is requesting. Are there service or product gaps between you and the competitor? If the customer mentions a competitor price, do not respond until you have explored in detail what the customer’s requirements are. Apples and oranges do not sell for the same price, and, you do not want the conversation to rush to price before you have a chance to explore the whole value of a possible piece of business with this customer.

Loss of trust is also frequently a consequence of bad mouthing competitors. After all, don’t we all think when we hear a person trashing someone, “I wonder what this guy says about me when I am not around.” This loss of trust can be permanent. There are many people who will simply stop doing business with a company represented by people who speak badly of others. In almost any event, you will be introducing doubt at a personal and business level into the equation.

There are further reasons to eliminate trash-mouthing  from your business behavior. This behavior distracts you from confronting why the competitor has customers at all. They must be doing something right. What are they doing? Maybe you should be learning from them? Further this behavior distracts you from understanding and clearly demonstrating your value to your potential customers and more important reinforcing these values.

If you encourage or allow your employees to engage in bad mouthing, you are also providing them with a psychological crutch to explain why they are not performing well. This same psychology allows them to run the silent movie in their heads of the villainous competitors who are nefariously taking business away from them. They need to spend that time and energy thinking about how they can add value to customers where the only sales and profits come from.

Now we should be clear, and this is not squirming out of the message here, the maxim to avoid bad mouthing does not mean that you should not point out in a very factual manner where the differences are between you and your competitor. There are many situations where a customer will be thankful that you have presented a clear analysis of the trade-offs among a number of companies’ offerings. Be vigorous, fair, and factual. You will win points for this.

So, the next time you feel the urge, or you hear one of your own company’s personnel winding up for a session of trash mouth, stop and think it through.