When your competitor makes a mistake

No one likes to make a mistake. However, as business owners we know we will make mistakes in the course of providing our product or service. Most of us have a contingency plan for remedying those mistakes when they happen.

But what do you do when your competitor makes a mistake? This may seem like the perfect time to tell your customers how much better your product or service is. I think there is a better way to handle the situation.

Discovering when your competitor makes a mistake

There are a number of ways to discover your competitor has made a mistake. Often, your customer or client will tell you. Sometimes, though, you may discover the mistake yourself.

My firm rarely signs a client who does not already have a bookkeeping file. Our first step before taking on a prospect as a new client is to conduct an in-depth review of the existing file. This gives us the opportunity to identify any issues with the file and form a plan for onboarding the new client.

This step also allows us to see if the bookkeeping has been done correctly. Sometimes, the prospect has done the bookkeeping themselves. More often, though, the prospect has outsourced this duty to a bookkeeping or accounting firm.

Out of the dozens of bookkeeping files I have reviewed, I can only recall two that were error free.

This puts us in an interesting position. We want the prospect’s business, and we can tell the client exactly what mistakes our competitors have made. This would surely encourage the prospect to sign on with us.

But we don’t do it.

Reacting when your competitor makes a mistake

When you provide a superior product or service, you want your customers or clients to know. But pointing out your competitors’ mistakes, or talking negatively about your competitors when prospects tell you about their mistakes, can have several unintended consequences:

  • It can make you look unprofessional to the very people you want to impress.
  • You can negatively impact your competitors’ businesses and livelihood, possibly even opening yourself up to allegations of defamation.
  • You may be inviting similar criticism of your own business.

At the same time, it is often impossible to ignore these mistakes. So, how should you react? Following are some diplomatic ways to address the situation:

  • Refuse to gossip about your competitor. Acknowledge what the prospect is saying, but then focus on how you can help them rather than what your competitor has done wrong.
  • Recognize there may be extenuating circumstances that led to the mistake. A prospect usually won’t tell their current provider if they are allowing someone else to review their work. The work may not be complete, perhaps because the other provider is waiting on information from the client.
  • There isn’t always just one right way to do things. What you may identify as a mistake may be a difference in preferences. The statement, “That’s not how I would have done it. Are you open to doing things differently?” has become a staple in my tricky conversations with prospects.

Above all, keep in mind we all make mistakes. When you learn of mistakes your competitors have made, think about how you would want them to speak of you if the tables were turned. Integrity has a way of finding its way back to us.

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