So what's "healthy" and what's not?
I would imagine that you, like me, can identify both. And let's start with the "nots."
It is not healthy to:
1. undermine your competitors and point out their faults or diminish their reputation in order to make yourself look better.
2. deliberately undercut a competitor's pricing when you know it is fair.
3. ask to see a competitor's proposal (under any circumstances).
4. go into competition for a client who you've been paid to work for when working with another company (the "I can do what they do" syndrome).
5. take the rolodex of a company you've left and use it for your own gain.
I can already hear that question arising out of 4 & 5. It'll probably go something like this: "But it was ME who developed the relationship, so what can I do if they want to work with ME?" Or, "I met that vendor at an industry event."
Here's my response. "Were you paid (either salary or commission or both) to solicit this client, develop the client and produce the business? If so, it is not YOUR client. It is the company's client. It was your job to do exactly what you did. On the other hand, if you brought the piece of business to the company from a prior relationship, then you do own that client. Next scenario: "Who paid for you to go to the industry event?" Point made.
It IS healthy (and I will give you some examples):
1. to price yourself fairly no matter with whom you are competing. I have had clients tell me the price a competitor is offering and ask if I would be willing to do the job for the same price. I will decline and stand firm that I have costed OUR product fairly. The decision should be made on the value of the product offered and not only who is cheaper.
2. to collaborate with a competitor and join forces if you feel this will benefit the client. A long time ago a fierce competitor (and by the way, great friend), Janet Elkins of EventWorks, and I were bidding on a job for a local community. Rather than compete we decided to collaborate and work together for the benefit of the community. To this day, Janet can call me for a resource, or I can call her, and we are open with each other. Do we talk about clients we are both bidding on? No, we just each do our job. But to this day, we would join forces if we felt that it benefitted the project.
3. to pass on a job you're not suited for and recommend one of your competitors, who is a better fit. (This will come back to benefit you many times over.) You have heard (or read) the "me first" story from long ago when a speaker shared the following: when he felt that someone he knew would be far better suited to produce a job (it was not an event), he referred his prospect to that company. The owner called him, thanked him, and said, "Why did you do that?" Our speaker said, "Because I knew you would do that for me." And that set the stage for future referrals which he did get.
4. when in a bid situation to praise your competition if you know who they are. It means you are acknowledging that your client is putting you in good company. Any client will have far more respect for you if you do this. If I was asked what our differentiator was, I would never say, "We're better" or "They are too expensive" or "We have more experience." What I would say is "They are a great company, and you could not go wrong no matter who you choose. What we bring to the table is (and then point out anything that I can offer that is unique to my company.)" Maybe you have employees who speak multiple languages, or have traveled to the client's home country.
We all compete. So do your clients. That's the world of today. Every brand has a competitor. So, don't come to a screeching halt when faced with that fact as you do business. Remember your value. Remember your strengths. Play to them; that is healthy. And in the end, it will bring success.
Extraordinary Events will be back online with a new blog after the New Year. It is our wish that this holiday season brings you health, joy and prosperity as you celebrate with friends, family and loved ones. Happy Holidays!
Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international meeting and event planning and production firm based in Los Angeles. To learn more about EE, visit http://www.extraordinaryevents.net. Contact Andrea via firstname.lastname@example.org.