When to Take Off the Gloves with Competitors

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Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer
Managing Partner at Red Rocket Ventures
4 min read
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Let’s face it: Every company needs to deal with competition. You compete on your product offering, your pricing, your customer benefits and more. And, for the most part, relationships against competitors follow some degree of decorum -- the best that two competitors can manage, at least. 

Related: Why Competition Is Good

On most days, you usually speak to your company’s advantages, keep your pitch factual and avoid stooping to the level of bad-mouthing the competition. But, your competitors don’t always follow those rules, and at times may even come out swinging, especially if they are new entrants in the market, trying to knock out the incumbent industry leader. So, when that happens, you have no choice other than to take off the gloves and get your hands dirty, right? The question is . . . how.

A competitive case study

Here is a case study that may bring this scenario to life. One of my Red Rocket clients was a pioneer in his industry, had the largest market share by a wide margin and was perceived as the best in the market. This afforded him the ability to charge premium prices and maintain rich margins. 

But, then things changed: A new competitor came along who had one clear goal: to take down the king of the mountain, my client, primarily on price advantage. And, that competitor would do whatever was necessary to make that happen.

This competitor did not play by the normal rules of engagement. He priced his product at half of its market value, tried to steal accounts and did whatever it took to get his foot in the door, even if that meant big losses to his bottom line. What's more, he over-inflated the hype around his product's true capabilities, which didn’t hurt him during the sales phase (but did during the renewal phase, when clients dropped him after getting a taste of reality).

Even worse, this competitor lied to customers about my client, employing ridiculous, made-up stories designed to create fear or give customers a reason to move their businesses. That's where I drew the line you should never cross: You just don’t lie in business.

Related: How Chef Eric Ripert Stays on Top in the Four-Star Hospitality 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. the lack thereof for other players in the industry. With intense determination, we fired away against the weaknesses of our competitor (on a no-names basis). 

We further added client testimonials and reference information for customers who had worked with both companies and had been “bamboozled” by our competitor (again, no name), then come running back to our client. And, we designed a lower price-point version of our product, to take the pricing discrepancy away. 

The outcome

The good news about our strategy is . . . it worked! We finally were able to stop the “bleed” of existing clients to this competitor. And, better yet, we won the next three competitive RFP situations against him with our new and improved pitch. Also worth adding: We did not go to the point of “no holds barred.” 

We didn’t call out the competitor by name, didn’t use a negative tone and, most importantly, did not lie to try to win business.

In conclusion

So, the lesson here is: When pitching against competitors, do your best to always take the high road, where you can. Speak to your strengths without bashing your competition. Understand that 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 described here, don’t just take any “ass whooping” lying down. Get in the ring, and punch your competitor right in the mouth (in a way which your customer won’t perceive as being specific or malicious). 

After all, when Joe Frazier is pounding away at you, you know it's time to bring out your inner Muhammad Ali.

Related: Holly Holm's Shocking Victory Over Ronda Rousey Reminds Us That Every Champ Is Beatable

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