As humans, we’re pretty competitive by nature. Not just when we play sports or fight with our siblings growing up, we’re also very competitive in business. Day in and day out we are plotting and planning the best ways to beat the competition in our industry.
When I was a kid, every year just after Thanksgiving, I always looked forward to watching the classic movie, “Miracle on 34th Street” with Natalie Wood. The folks over there in Hollywood did a decent remake of the movie in the 90s, but I love the black and white classic best.
As a child, I’m sure what I loved most about the film was all the fantasy of the real Santa Claus playing the part of department store Santa and how they proved he was real in a courtroom of non-believers. However, something else in that film stuck with me for many years–The Macy’s & Gimbel’s Policy.
In the movie, the man that Macy’s hired to play Santa, sent parents over to their direct competition, Gimbel’s, if Macy’s didn’t stock an item that they were looking for. You can imagine the uproar these actions started within the company, sending precious customers straight to their competition.
As you would expect, Kris Kringle was about to be fired, until something amazing happened. The public was so impressed with Macy’s appearance of genuine care for their customer’s needs, business boomed through the roof. Macy’s came across as a company who puts the people first and it greatly benefited them.
Now you can say “that’s only a movie” but I’m here to tell you, a similar policy or stance in everyday business works as well. I’m not telling to you send customers to your competition if you’re simply out of stock and need to buy a little time to replenish. I’m not telling you to teach your staff to back away from a “product switch” if there’s an opportunity for them to be sales people instead of order takers. At the end of the day, there are quotas to be met and bills to pay.
What I am saying is, people are armed with smartphones, tablets, apps, computers and every tool they need to be aware that you ain’t the only game in town. So don’t act like you have to do whatever it takes to sell them at that moment in fear that they may find a better deal elsewhere. Give them the better deal now. If you can’t, then give them a better reason to buy from you. But don’t try to earn their business by putting your foes down, criticizing or bad mouthing them. People are watching you and listening to every word you say. Trash talkin’ other companies is a turn off and it may send someone directly to them.
When I sold Ford automobiles and trucks, people constantly came in, went through the demo process and then said, “I don’t know…I like this car, but I’m think I’m going to buy a…” [insert brand name here]. When you spend 30-60 minutes showing someone all the features of a car, taking them on test drives and really pouring your passion into your brand, it kinda stings when a potential customer tells you they are probably going somewhere else. Especially when the car they said they want to buy is far less superior in quality, design, features, etc.
What did I do?
I made sure I knew all the features of the other cars in my competition circle so that I knew how my cars compared to them. And when I spoke about the other brand, I never put them down.
“Honda makes a great car, no doubt about it,” I would say. “If you plan on keeping the car for a long time, Honda will last and give you a great life with minimum maintenance.”
I had a manager once yell at me for that kind of advice. But it’s the truth. What I am supposed to do, lie and say the car is a piece of junk? I’m not that kind of person. I sell truth with truth.
“Let me ask you a question,” I would continue. “If price wasn’t an option and both cars were made by the same manufacturer, which one is nicer by design, more comfortable and has better features?”
9 out of 10 times the answer was my car. Oh yea, I know Ford used to make horrible vehicles but times have changed. Detroit is pumping out some award winning sets of wheels over the last few years.
By asking this question and getting the customer to choose my car, now I know the only thing holding back the sale is price or brand name. That’s easy to overcome by just building value of my product, not by trashing another brand.
And customers appreciate it when you respect other brands–because they may like these other brands. You trashing brands they like makes them feel like you’re trashing them.
Here’s an idea. Why not learn about your competition and see if there’s anything they offer that could enhance the products or services that you sell? In other words, maybe share a customer.
If you don’t have any product that work for a given person, send them to the competition knowing that you may get nothing out of it. Most of the time, that kind of service, either convinces a customer to do business with you at some time down the road, helps change their mind back to doing business with you now or it gives them reason to recommend you to others.
I had dozens of referral customers that came to me from people that I never sold a car to. They sent their friends and family to me because even when they didn’t buy a car off of me, I treated them with respect and appreciation. People want that kind of service for the people they care about.
When someone told me they were buying from someone else, I even went so far as to say, “hey, when you’re over there negotiating that other brand, call me before you sign so I can help make sure they’re not taking advantage of you.” I offered to help them buy another brand. No, I’m not crazy. That level of care for their needs is the reason I never had a bad month. It’s the reason I was constantly promoted. It’s the reason I still get calls well after I left the company from people that want to buy more cars off of me.
Send them to Gimbel’s. You will prosper greatly from it.