A recent question from an office hours session on how to handle a prospect asking you to critique a competitor when both of you have new offerings in a new application area.
How To Critique a Competitor In an Emerging Market
Q: I have a situation I am not sure how to handle, or at least the way that I am tempted to handle it may not the best. I got a call from an international professional society that has many thousands of members around the world. They have been approached by a competitor and have asked me to assess their offering and compare it to mine.
A: Had you already been talking to them or is this question your first contact with them?
Q: I am working in a new application area that takes advantage of some new low cost technologies to provide interactive models of information. Up until now this information has been represented in painfully calculated diagrams and look up tables.I had approached the society earlier and suggested that my product might be useful for their members. They were interested. Why does that make a difference in how to answer?
A: If you have already had several conversations and are working in an emerging technology area it’s much more likely they are asking for your candid advice. The most important thing is to ensure that you understand:
- The problem they are trying to solve (the job-to-be-done they want to hire your product to perform).
- Any constraints on the solution.
- How they will measure progress your solution represents over their current status quo and alternatives available to them.
- The impact or benefits that your solution offers them.
Q: I have found some pretty glaring problems with the competitor’s offering. Am I really not able to point these out? Even if I word it in a ‘positive light’ (eg I’m thrilled more companies are creating these models, here are some things I’ve noticed that are different between our offerings are…)?
A: I think you would be better served to take your advocate hat off and help them identify what their real needs are and what criteria make sense. Criteria that are independent of your implementation or that of your competitor. You can then apply those criteria to both offerings and other alternatives that may be available to them.
Q: Why not directly critique a competitor?
A: Because you are working in an emerging application area it’s more important to get a deep understanding of your prospect’s problems. It’s legitimate to suggest criteria that you believe are relevant to their situation. If you have customers who have evaluated both offerings and selected yours you can also suggest they talk to them–and if you have not written up a case study on this that’s definitely worth doing. But in an emerging market half the challenge is promoting the new category of application: it’s as important to get them committed to moving away from paper diagrams to on-line interactive models as it is to force a vendor choice.
Q: When should I critique a competitor.
A: In the early market where you are comparing two new offerings it’s very tricky. Just as your solution is evolving rapidly so is theirs. You may say something that was true three months ago that they have fixed. If you get it wrong you lose a lot of trust. It’s normally better to get agreement on criteria and the clarity on the problem they are trying to solve. With a large organization and a new technology it’s often a good idea to run one or more pilot projects so that you can demonstrate you can do what you say and you put the competition on a level playing field with you.