Part 2: Your Competition May Be Saying Horrible Things About You

Use negativity as fuel. Position your strengths, know your weaknesses, visualize your threats and own your opportunities.

I was sitting in a client’s board room going through positioning notes. In preparation for our meeting, their leadership put together a deck that outlined the advantages they had over their competition, and how they can out-position them in the marketplace.

This is a great first step, as they are actively thinking about their marketplace positioning.

While listening to them talk through the competitive advantages (which, for the record, I agreed with), I wondered what their competition was saying about them in their own boardrooms.

I interjected into the conversation and asked that question. What are your competitors saying about you? In your SWOT, what are your weaknesses that they are pointing out, and thus, your signature opportunities? Clearly, this is the exercise I suggested in part one – and a critical one when you are ready to clearly piece together a marketing strategy.

We, as leaders in business, tend to go toward our competitive advantages, which we should get to—but isn’t that process backwards? Shouldn’t we start with understanding what the competition says about us and how we can then create competitive advantages that fight that rhetoric?

On two consecutive new business calls, I ask a few critical questions: How many agencies are you talking with; what do the other agencies say about us; and, does their opinion affect your decision positively or negatively?

Let’s start with the third. Their response was that it doesn’t necessarily affect them, but it does raise a few hesitations as they felt some truth in whatever others say.

OK, fair response.

In our business, we have taken the approach of doing our best to not bad mouth in the sales process. We feel this does a few things. First, it makes us the adults as we try to rise above the rest, which, in turn, prevents us from showing a sign of weaknesses—when you have to put others down to pull yourself up, it can come off as desperate or immature.

However, in today’s world, where bad mouthing sometimes creates viral conversations, perhaps we should attack back; perhaps we should speak the truth of our competition.

I think about what we would say. And each time I do, I think about our strengths, again, and want to speak to them—our leadership (most experience/depth), our product (technology meets communications), our results, our strategy (fantastic case studies) and our relationships (good reputation). All of those turn into positives versus negatives. It may be the half full approach to showcasing our advantages over the competition.

Rather than taking the same road as us, competitors try to focus on putting us down for our strengths. First, it was the experience of our team, with them saying we were young (we now have the most experienced team). Then, it was that we couldn’t book the big media (we book more good press, per client, than arguably any other agency that exists, period). And then, the one that almost hurt—that the credibility of our agency is shot because we have a technology product that helps tell stories, yet we are an agency (dumb, I know).

Through our initial conversations with prospects, we have heard that noise. Yet, we struggled to respond because the strength of our business is the response.

My conclusion is to continue to take the high road.

Whether you are selling a car, a franchise or some other widget, if you are projecting to the top of the thing you sell, people’s jealousy and fear will try to attack your market positioning. Don’t let it. Put those negatives to the side. At the most, use it as fuel and positive energy to keep doing what you are doing. Position your strengths, know your weaknesses, visualize your threats and own your opportunities.

The model is fairly simple.

When exiting our client’s board room, I knew their minds were spinning toward understanding that visualizing the threats of competitors’ negative positioning against them would help them focus on highlighting the strengths of their business. Their competitive positioning was never going to go half full, it would remain focused on their strengths as the primary distractor of threats.

In my opinion, this is the strongest positioning strategy to create.

This column is syndicated from 1851 Franchise.