Winning without bad-mouthing your competitors

As a professional channel manager, you will be tempted now and again to mention to your partners what is wrong with your competitors. It's hard to hold back sometimes, especially when you have a ground-breaking product, or a competitor that is  shooting itself in the foot. It's wise to resist the urge.

It can be irresistible when one of your competitors has something bad happen, for example, a product recall. If you are asked to comment on a competitors recall, don't have a giggle and say something to the effect that their product is sub-standard so who is surprised. It makes you look very shallow and opportunistic, and it could always happen to you.

I have worked for a company where our major competitor was hit with a recall. Some of our more eager channel people went out and told everyone and embraced it as a golden sales opportunity. My reaction, only if asked, was more along the lines of "don't really like seeing that in the industry, and I hope they get it sorted out for their customers". My colleagues thought I was a bit soft, until a week later, one of our products was hit with the same recall; it seems we were both sourcing the same component and had the same fault. Now, for me, it was not a major issue to go and announce the recall to my partners; I didn't have to eat humble-pie in front of my partners. 

The channel management profession is fairly small and most of us tend to stay in the same industry. One day, you may end up working for the competitor you just spent the last few years sinking the boot into every now and then. You may even be looking after a selection of your previous partners. The question in your partners' minds will be: Are you telling the truth now, or back then? 

Two of the most important values a channel manager carries with them are Trust and Integrity. Some of my partners have been dealing with me for over 20 years ... with up to three different vendors. What I bring to them is ME first, and the company I represent comes along too. As a channel manager, what gives you credibility in the channel, and value to your (potential employers) is your network, your ability to see mutual business benefits to grow both your businesses, and your reputation. 

How do you actually position yourself and your products/services against a competitor? Features, Functions and Benefits? Whenever you launch a new product or service, you probably have a cheat-sheet from your marketing team. Have you done a SWOT Analysis of your major competitors? If so, you will now know the strengths and opportunities you have. So, do you launch into your prepared and targeted pitch yet? No. All the features and benefits of your product don't mean anything, unless there is a benefit to your partners and their customers.

For your partners to actively market your product, there must be a benefit for them, as well as for their customers. Separate yourself from your company's marketing hype and place yourself in the shoes of your partners. What benefits can you see from their perspective? Now you craft your "pitch" from their perspective and sell up the value of you and your company's offerings. This will always be of more benefit than putting down the offerings of your competitors. It may sound simple, but it will stand you in good stead through your career as a channel manager.

It's sometimes easy to take a shot at your competitor, and you may win a little in the short term. Relationship selling however is something that is infinitely more valuable, and far more rewarding. It is also something that will earn you respect, so that you may always be thought of as a channel professional with integrity who delivers real value to your partners.

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