These words came as a surprise to my customer, to say the least. Moreover, there is no doubt I would have been fired had my manager known that I sent a customer to the competition.
The customer had requested a meeting to discuss purchasing another piece of office equipment. In addition to equipment, this customer had been purchasing a suite of supplies from me for several years. (My competitor also manufactured equipment and supplies.)
Over the next hour, we talked about the customer’s needs, desired outcomes, preferences, implications of the status quo, and so on. We weighed the plusses and minuses of each approach. There were several types of equipment that would be suitable. He made his decision.
Our equipment offerings were best-in-class; durable, competitively priced, state-of-the-art and user-friendly . . . with one glaring exception. Inexplicably, there was one piece of equipment that my employer had not updated in many years. It was woefully inferior to the competitor’s offering.
Was he aware of the relative strengths and weaknesses of our product versus that of our competitor? At a high level, yes. I didn’t hide my misgivings.
Up to this time, none of my customers had shown more than a passing interest in this piece of equipment.
The customer made his decision. Now it was my turn. Should I close the sale on a piece of equipment that will get the job done, albeit slowly and with undue waste and aggravation? Or should I point him to my competitor and risk losing allof his business?
I looked at him and said, “You should buy this product from my competitor” and tactfully explained why. (I was very careful to avoid being viewed as bashing my own company.) And I voiced my hope that, aside from this sale, we would continue to do business.
He thanked me profusely for being so honest. We shook hands, the meeting ended, and I crossed my fingers.
The customer bought the equipment from the competitor . . . and continued to buy everything else from me. At our next meeting, one of the firm’s owners came in and expressed his appreciation for my candor and guidance.
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