Quick Printing
December 2006
Fight rumours with a smile
Stay calm and collected even if your competitors are talking you down
Just when you think everything is going along fine, you overhear one of your customers repeat a comment that a competitor made about your firm. And you can bet it’s not good. If your blood starts to boil, hang on. Just stay calm, cool, and collected, even if you feel like screaming.
Yes, that’s right. Take a step back (mentally, that is) and collect yourself. Sometimes, the best strategy is to take neither a defensive nor an offensive position, but rather one that allows you to sort through the real issues. In fact, the next time you hear that a competitor has knocked your printing firm, simply smile.

I have a friend who is the sales manager of a large insurance company. He knows this scenario all too well. In his business, this type of negative selling happens nearly every day. When my friend addresses new sales recruits, he lets them know, in no uncertain terms, what they are in for, but he backs it up with some solid advice: “Stay calm, always take the high road, and back up everything with facts. Listen and try to determine why your client is bringing up your competitors’ slam. There may be a number of reasons.” Your customer may be afraid he made a mistake and you need to reassure him with facts. Your customer could be trying to renegotiate prices on her most recent print job. Or, she may be trying to test you.

Don’t underestimate the last one. Your client may just want to see how you react—especially if she’s testing the waters to see if you’ll lower your price. My advice? Don’t react. Instead say, “I’m interested in why you’re saying this. Let’s talk about it.” Take your customer’s “test,” and confront it head-on in a positive way. Ask him if he feels he’s getting results from you. A question like this can help your client put things in a proper perspective, even if your competitor is offering a lower price.

To me, negative price selling is always the easiest competitive tactic to battle because you can rely on facts. I’ll say something like, “Ok, you’ve found another printer who’ll charge you $56 less for a $700 print job. But you’ve told me you feel you got good results from my printing firm, and we have a proven track record of dependability that’s lasted for four years. Are you sure you want to risk all that for just $56?”

If your competitors are resorting to negative selling, it’s usually for one of two reasons: they’re either afraid of you, or they’re desperate for business. That being said, you need to know your competitors’ products as well as you possibly can.

A few years ago, one of my competitors had his sales reps spread a rumour that we couldn’t afford the payments on our new five-colour Heidelberg press. They told anybody who would listen that our press was for sale and that we would no longer be continuing to provide process colour printing. It was a lie but the rumour had legs. It seemed like everyone had heard the story, including many of my customers. I’ll admit that it rattled my customer service reps to the point where one of them even asked me if the rumour was true.

It was all very maddening, and even though I felt like punching my competitor in the nose, I chose to take the high road with a positive response to everyone who asked about the rumour. I simply said, “You know, they are a great company, and I’m not sure why they would say something like that.” That simple, believable statement seemed to always put an end to the rumour whenever some one brought it up.

In this case, I got the last laugh. About two years later, his number-one customer left the print shop and moved the business to my company. From January to August of this year this one account has printed $93,000 worth of forms and marketing materials at my company.

I would also advise you to be careful not to trivialize your customers’ negative comments or concerns when they bring them up. Do your best to get inside their heads. Try to discover what it is they might be looking for. Is it a tactic, or do they have a legitimate concern? If it’s a real concern, work with them to resolve it as quickly as you can.
Another good way to combat competitor knocks is to share testimonials from satisfied clients. It’s really powerful when you can say something like, “It sounds like your concerns about us being able to handle this large project are really important to you. Let me put you in touch with some of our other customers we’ve done similar projects for.” This turns a knock into a selling opportunity and not something you need to be defensive about.
Mike Stevens is one of North America’s most successful small printers. He owns Express Press in Fargo, North Dakota. Starting with sales of $10,900 a month in 1985, volume now exceeds $250,000 per month. You can reach him at mikestevens@expresspressusa.com or visit www.expresspressusa.com.
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