When to Take Off the Gloves With Competitors



Let’s face it: every company needs to deal with competition. You compete on your product offering, your pricing, your customer benefits, etc. And, for the most part, relationships against competitors, follow some sort of decorum, as best as two competitors can. You usually speak to your company’s advantages, you keep the pitch factual and you don’t stoop to the level of bad mouthing the competition. But, your competitors don’t always follow that logic, and oftentimes, they can come out swinging, especially if they are a new entrant in the market trying to knock out the incumbent industry leader. So, when that happens, you have no choice other than taking off the gloves, and getting your hands dirty.

Competitive Case Study

I wanted to use a case study to help bring this story to life. One of my Red Rocket clients was a pioneer in their industry, had the largest market share by a wide margin, and was perceived as the best in the market. This afforded them the ability to charge premium prices and maintain rich margins. But, a new competitor came along that had one clearly stated goal: to take down the king of the mountain, my client, primarily on a price driven advantage. And, they would do whatever was necessary to make that happen.

This competitor did not play by normal rules of engagement. They would price their product at half of market value, trying to steal accounts and get their foot in the door, even if it meant big losses to their bottom line. They over-inflated the hype around their true product capabilities, which didn’t hurt them during the sales phase (only during the renewal phase when clients would drop them after being disappointed with the reality). But, even worse, they would completely lie to customers, about my client with ridiculous made-up stories designed to create fear or give the customer a reason to move their business. That is where I drew the line you should never cross: you just don’t lie in business. 

What We Did About It

This is when we started to “take off the gloves” to better defend our turf. In our RFP responses we would add a section about our competition (in general) and where we saw our strengths vs. other players in the industry, firing away against the weaknesses of our competitor (on a no names basis). We added client testimonials and reference information of customers that had worked with both companies and had been “bamboozled” by our competitor (again on a no names basis), and came running back to our client. And, we designed a lower-price point version of our product, to take the pricing discrepancy away.

The Outcome

And, the good news . . . it worked!! We finally were able to stop the “bleed”, losing existing clients to this competitor. And, better yet, we won the next three competitive RFP situations against this competitor with our new and improved pitch. And, worth adding, we did NOT go to the point of “no holds barred”. We didn’t call the competitor out by name, we didn’t do it in a negatively intended tone, and most importantly, we did not lie to try and win business!!

In Conclusion

When pitching against competitors, do your best to always take the high road, where you can. Speak to your strengths without bashing your competition. You don’t want to have to “take off the gloves” unless you have no other choice. But, if you are dragged down into one of those ugly situations, as discussed herein, don’t just take the “ass whooping” lying down. Get in the ring, and punch your competitor right in the mouth (in a way your customer won’t perceive it as you doing it a specific or malicious kind of way).

When Joe Frazier is pounding away at you, time to bring out your inner Muhammad Ali!!



Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by araza123

About the author: George Deeb

George Deeb is a managing partner at Red Rocket Ventures, a Chicago-based startup consulting and fundraising firm with expertise in advising Internet-related businesses. More of George’s startup lessons can be read at “101 Startup Lessons — An Entrepreneur’s Handbook.”

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