At my prior employer I had a sales meeting with a supplier and among the topics discussed was the current business environment. We talked in general terms about how some companies managed to survive while others were unfortunately forced to close shop. The Sales Rep then turned the conversation to how he’s surprised that some of his own competitors (which he mentioned by name) are still in business due to their poor financial outlook and their substandard products. He said, “The last thing I want to do is to bad-mouth my competitors”, then he went on to bad-mouth his competitors! He discussed the poor fiscal status of his rival supplier’s and how their products are failing in the field. He went so far was to warn me about placing future orders to them. The entire time he acted as if he was doing me a favor by providing “beneficial” information about his competition. After his comments I abruptly ended the meeting with an explanation that I had an assignment to complete before lunch.
The truth is, I ended it on purpose because I was completely turned off by his comments regarding his competitors! Being a Buyer by trade, I take everything I hear with a grain of salt. As a Buyer it’s in my best interest to be suspicious of every supplier and skeptical of everything they tell me. And even if I wasn’t, why would I take the advice of a supplier regarding his own competitors? Think of an instance in your private life in which you dealt with a retail Sales Rep who downgraded his competitors in front of you in order to get the sale. Did you believe him? Did it make you feel you could trust that person? Or would you rather make up your own mind about competitive products based on your own research?
Some Sales Professionals have a tendency to bad-mouth their competition during the quoting process. But from the Buyer’s perspective, a Sales Rep should never discuss in a negative way another competitor. They should never bring up rumors they’ve heard about their competitor’s products, financial situation, or problems the end-user is having with them. I’ve discussed this with numerous Buyers: we all feel it’s unprofessional and not certainly welcomed. No one likes a gossip and Buyers do not want to hear about a supplier’s inadequacies from their own competitors.
As a Buyer, I rely on his my OWN end-users, engineers, financial and quality groups to determine product and service capabilities. I rely on my own company’s knowledge and experience to determine commercial aptitudes. Researching supplier’s financial status and requesting feedback from the end-users is part of a Buyer’s yearly goals. And while some Buyers may seem interested when you tell them negative things about your competitors, in reality they would prefer you remain positive and constructive, and leave the analysis to them. You need to concentrate and improve on your own failures as a supplier rather someone else’s in an attempt to win the job.
Equally important, nothing is more of a turn off for the Buyer than to listen to a Sales Rep bad-mouth a supplier they were previously employed by. One week you’re working for Company A and informing me of all the good qualities of Company A. The next week you’re working for Company B, informing me of all the bad qualities of Company A. This immediately destroys any credibility you have and I can no longer trust you. Period.
If you had internal issues with your previous employer, you should never discuss it with the Buyer. It’s none of the Buyer’s business and he probably does not wish to be involved in any bad blood that may have occurred. If asked, all you need to say is that there were irreconcilable differences with your previous employer and that you wish them all the best. Another lesson to learn here is that the business world is small one and you never know who they may be working for next. Bad mouthing Company X one week and working for them the next also destroys your credibility. Again, too many Sales Professionals have said to me “I don’t believe in bad-mouthing my competitors, but . . .”, then proceed in doing exactly that! From the Buyer’s perspective it’s a major turn off. Use positive comparisons instead, like “This is how my competitor does it, and this is how we do it.” Leave the gossip to the newsstand tabloids.