Buyer Reluctance

Written by Sean McPheat | Linkedin thumb

Business woman with arms in a crossHere’s a question that was sent through email a couple of weeks ago:

“Some of my clients may know someone who has had a bad experience with another product ie. paid £3000 for it and then kept them in a draw. Could you please give me some tips on how to convince my client that that would not happen to them if they choose us”

My take on this:

Guilt By Association

The prospect says, “Everything looks good, but this is the same thing XYZ Company said and it proved to be a bad decision that cost us a lot of money.” 

Or the customer says, ”I bought one of these before, and it is still in the basement.  I heard these things never work.” Or you hear, “The last company that sold these widgets ripped us off!”  “All widget sellers are crooked!” What do you do when another company has created a bad image for the product or service that is similar to what you sell?   What do you do when the customer finds you guilty by reason of associating with the same industry?

This can be a very sensitive situation in that, of course, one thing you have to do is distance yourself and your company and product, away from the competitor with the bad reputation.  However, you cannot downgrade or “bash” that competition.  So, on one hand you have to separate from the competition, but you cannot talk negative about the competition either.   You will never build up your company image by tearing down the competition. 

So what can you do when you have to highlight and discuss the negative aspects of the competitor without talking negative about that competitor? And how do your convince your customer that your product or service is different?    How do you point out negative differences without being negative?

There is a way around this apparent conundrum and it really begins with your research and in your sales presentation.  First, as a professional, you should know your industry and know everything about your competition.  If one of your competitors has a history of supplying substandard service, than you should know this and be prepared to encounter the topic in the field.   If on the other hand, you only encounter the problem once, then inform your customer of the truth. 

Let me clarify: You hear a complaint from a prospect of an unresolved problem with a competitor: There should only be two situations:

It is an isolated incident, in which case you should “defend your competitor” by telling the prospect that it must be an isolated incident because you never heard of this before.


The competition has some history of creating this bad image or delivering the inferior product, etc.  In which case, as a professional sales person, you should have already known of the problems and their history and should have been prepared.  

These should be the only two circumstances for you to encounter negative feedback about your competition.   Let us examine how to handle both of these situations.

Scenario #1 – No Negative History

It is an isolated incident, in which case you should “defend your competitor” by telling the prospect that it must be an isolated incident because you never heard of this before.

Many sales people make a crucial mistake in this situation thinking that they will gain an advantage on the competition, when in fact; they actually damage their own image and cast a negative reflection on their entire industry and profession. 

Again, this is a situation where the sales person has no prior negative reports about this competitor. Here is an example of the Incorrect Way to Respond


“I bought some of those same widgets from XYZ Company and they were horrible.  Two of them did not work at all and I had to repair one myself.  It cost me a lot of money and I was  very dissatisfied.”

 Sales Person:           “Well, I am sorry about your experience Mr. Prospect, but XYZ Company is NOT us. And XYZ Company has not been around as long as we have.  I know some companies do sell inferior widgets but at ABC Widgets we sell the best… “

 Now, this may seem like it makes sense. But what this sales person has just done was damage the whole widget industry and the trustworthiness of ALL widget sellers and sadly that includes his own company, ABC Widgets.   Our sales person finds this to be true when attempting to close…

Prospect:                   “No. I think I need to think about this a little longer. I got hurt once, I don’t want to take that chance again….”

This sales person walks out of that presentation thinking that the problem was XYZ Company and their substandard product, when in fact; the sales person himself caused the real problem.   The prospect was merely suspicious of widget companies.   That is until our great sales person PROVED the prospect’s suspicions to be true!  He confirmed the prospect’s worst thoughts.  So now the prospect trusts NO widget company.

You will NEVER build up your company by tearing down the competition. 

Let’s look at this same example with a more professional sales person and the Correct Response

Prospect:                   “I bought some of those same widgets from XYZ Company and they were horrible.  Two of them did not work at all and I had to repair one myself.  It cost me a lot of money and I was very dissatisfied.”

Sales Person:           “What?!  Mr. Prospect, I am absolutely shocked!  I have never heard of an XYZ customer having a problem like that before. I mean I believe we have better service and a better product, but XYZ has been in business for years and they do a good job.  This is a respectable industry with very professional competitors.  I just never heard of widgets that did not work before.  Could you tell me exactly what happened? I am really concerned about this”

Do you see what just happened?  This sales person did not only defend the competition, he defended himself!  He upheld the image of the industry, which leaves open the possibility to close the sale.  He also made himself an Industry Authority and Leader. The prospect had some ill feelings about widget companies, but instead of the sales person continuing to help bash the industry, the sales person uplifted and helped to restore the industry’s professional image, thereby creating an avenue to sell!

So, in the case where you have no supporting negative history on the competition, do not bash them, defend them.

Scenario #2 – Previous Negative History and Reputation

First, understand that you should know everything there is to know about your competition. If one has a bad image or a history of substandard material, you should know about it.  You should know about it and you should already have researched how and why your company has rose above the problem and this information should be part of your normal sales presentation.  You cannot try to “overcome this objection” when the prospect raises the issue during the close. You must address this situation DURING your sales presentation. 

Here is an example using the above scenario where Mr. Prospect purchased bad widgets in the past.  During the sales presentation the sales person says something like this:

Sales Person:           “Now Mr. Prospect, let me show you one of the reasons why ABC has the best widgets in the industry.  Most widget companies use a little wheel right here, and what happens is the oil drains off of the moving part and it dries out.  Then when the widget is started, it breaks and the widget does not work.  This happens a lot in the industry and many companies have this problem. 

                                    What we have done to solve this Mr. Prospect is at ABC we do not use the moving part at all.  We install a silicon base so that there is no moving part to break and there is no oil needed. This is why our widgets never fail.  Now, it costs a lot more to build them this way, but we figured it is easier for us to explain a higher price ONCE, then to make excuses for broken widgets over and over again. Don’t you agree?”

Mr. Prospect:             “Yes and now that you mention it, I think I had that exact problem. I bought some widgets from your competitor, XYZ Company and many of them broke right away. I was very dissatisfied. “

Sales Person:           “I’m sorry to hear that Mr. Prospect. But try not to blame XYZ Company too much, they are a good company and they do their best and they mean well. The problem is they are using outdated technology. That is what sets us apart from every other widget company in America—we are always on the leading edge…”

Not only does this sales professional highlight the negative problem, but she did it without bashing the company who was responsible. In fact, she complemented them. However, she elevated HER company above the rest, while helping to maintain a professional image for the industry.    She also instantly became the industry authority and could probably sell her widgets for twice the price.   This sales person has transcended the price and the past negative reputation of the competition.  In the eyes of the DM, she is now the EXPERT.

This sales person also had no idea that the prospect had a previous problem, but the issue was built into the sales presentation. If the issue arose only at the close, she could have responded in a similar fashion but it would not have the same effect. In fact, it would almost seem like a defence because she would have been on the defence.

Find out your competitor’s problems and negative history. Then present the problem AND your company’s solution to that problem during the presentation.  If you include your competitor’s weaknesses into your sales presentation you can elevate your product, you company and yourself to the level of the Industry Leader.


Sean McPheat

Sean McPheat
Managing Director

MTD Sales Training | Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo

450 sales questions free report

Originally published: 18 August, 2007

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