Ad-libs: How to talk about your competitors

Ad-libs: How to talk about your competitors

By John Foust
Raleigh, NC

I was talking to Kyle, an advertiser who has been dealing with media representatives for many years. “I can tell a lot about a sales person by what they say about their competitors,” he said. “It is extremely unprofessional to try to make sales points by trashing the other guys. In fact, negative comments reveal more about the critic than they do about the object of their criticism.”

On the other hand, Kyle explained, it pays to be positive and diplomatic. “When a sales person shows sincere respect for the competition; that goes a long way toward winning my trust.”

Dale Carnegie said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.” Kyle – and a lot of other advertisers – would agree. Here are three points to keep in mind:

1. Do your homework. Average sales people learn everything they can about their products and services. Exceptional sales people go a step further and learn everything they can about their competitors’ products and services. That puts them in position to speak with authority when they’re making presentations.

“Product knowledge is crucial,” Kyle said. “But it’s hard to take a sales person seriously if all they know is their own product. I advertise in more than one place. So when I meet with an ad representative, I want to hear their perceptions on market trends and how their media outlet can help me accomplish my objectives.”

2. Compare, don’t criticize. No one sells in a vacuum. Whether you live in a large metropolitan area or a small rural market, there are competitors for your prospects’ advertising dollars. As a result, the person across the desk is hearing from – or at least thinking about – other advertising alternatives.

If you’ve done your research – on your prospect and on the media choices in your market – you’ll be able to make fair comparisons. “I like presentations that make point-by-point comparisons”, Kyle said. “For example, if your paper reaches a wider range of people in my target audience, show me. If you have different production capabilities, show me. If your web site has unique ways to measure response, show me.”

3. Focus on facts, not opinion. This takes the emotion – much of which could be interpreted as negative – out of your comments. For example, a blatantly opinionated sales person might say something like this about ad rates: “You get what you pay for. Our competitor’s rates are lower than ours. To me, that’s an obvious sign that advertising in our paper is worth more than running ads in theirs.”

That kind of remark would be guaranteed to raise a red flag with an advertiser like Kyle. In fact, he might even be tempted to defend the competitor.

It’s much better to say something like: “Let’s compare their rates with ours. Although our rates are a little more, let me show you the extra value we offer for your investment.” This fact-based approach will lead you and your prospect to a lower risk, benefits-oriented discussion.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information:

(c) Copyright 2013 by John Foust. All rights reserved.