Shut the FUD Up

Three opinion pieces in two weeks. Too much? Perhaps I’ve just had more things that I’m procrastinating about lately, and my brain is looking for creative ways to avoid doing them…

On to the topic – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Or more simply FUD. Or in fact competition in general.

It seems to me that there are two primary methods for getting people onside when it comes to talking about technology. You can either deposition the opposition by talking about their flaws, using whatever information you may have read on a blog, through the twittersphere or at a tech conference (not to mention vendors competitive teams). You can prey on an individuals fears, identify what they have at stake in the decision and throw enough doubt into the equation that they think that a project will overrun, they will run over budget, and that they will ultimately feel that overrun in their own hip pocket.

Alternatively you can speak about the strengths of your own organisation, the strategy that you are taking, your investment in products and people, and pay little to no attention to the competition. You can still identify that personal value and show how to help deliver it, but that doesn’t need to be an “us vs them” thing.

In my professional role, can you guess which type of sales cycle I prefer to be selling against within a customer? The first one. Here’s why.

1. Customers aren’t stupid

I recently attended a two hour workshop with a customer after a competitor had been in to (ostensibly) talk about their solution. The customer requested that we come in and comment on the information that they had been provided. Amusingly, that information was all about what we were unable to do, and the limitations of our solution set.

If you spend all your time talking to customers about a competitor, all you are doing is piquing their interest in the competition.

2. I know my products better than you do

The same workshop as above. I spent all bar fifteen minutes of that meeting on the whiteboard explaining how our solution would work for them, where third party integrations fit into the solution, and how support handoff to those third parties was handled. Every question that they put to me showed the competitor in question did not understand how our solutions work, and simply gave me a chance to showcase our solution and it’s capabilities. The next day we received a purchase order.

3. Competitive information is out of date the minute it is released

I know this. I have competitive information at my fingertips, and yet with the increased rate of release cycles, relying on any competitive material is a pointless exercise. If you quote official competitive material, the vast likelihood is that I will acknowledge that this was a problem in version x, but it has since been addressed in version x.1, or y, or maybe in the current version z since that information is so far out of date.

4. Customers appreciate not hearing FUD

In most customer meetings I go to, I’m asked to compare what we are positioning with what a competitor is positioning. In each and every case I decline to comment on the competition. A great line I picked up from Greg Mulholland is “I wouldn’t expect you to listen to talk about our products, so why would I expect you to listen to what I have to say about theirs?”.  Another good line is “yes, they have a very strong offering in this area. However, I’m not here to comment on their offerings, I’m here to understand how we can address your problems.”.

In being gracious to your competitors you gain credibility in the eyes of your customers.

In my experience, I’ve found that as people become comfortable in their roles, the products/services/platforms/thing that they have to speak about with customers the less likely they are to fall back on FUD as a selling technique. Alternatively they use FUD because they don’t have a shipping product and want to delay you making a decision…. yes, that comment is walking kind of close to the FUD line, so I’ll leave it there.