To mention or not to mention a competitor? That is the question.

Celine Wee
4 min readJan 26, 2024

TLDR; Like it or not, competitors will pop up in a good sales conversation. Being prepared to discuss competitors when selling to a potential customer/buyer/client prospect is a must.

There are generally 3 approaches

1/ Don’t mention competitors at all

2/ Mention only if the customer brings it up

3/ Proactively bring up competitors

Full credit to designstripe

Exploring the viability of the 3 approaches

Approach 1: Don’t mention competitors at all

In consulting, we were told by the first week of training to never mention other consulting firms. I can hardly think of why an associate working on decks needs to bring up other consulting companies to a client, so this was not hard to do. The rule is probably more applicable for partners selling projects.

Viable approach? Possibly, but if your meeting has a deep and fruitful discussion about what’s going on in the client’s business, it inevitably leads to the competitor being brought up. In that case, avoiding the topic will seem evasive. You don’t have to mention names, but being prepared to deal with questions about differentiation is important (more to come in the last section).

Approach 2: Mention only if the customer brings it up

Assuming you are asking good questions, you should be digging into a prospect’s goals, existing set up, which leads to hearing which competitors they are using, painpoints etc.

Viable approach? Yes, if you have good questions to draw information out. This suggests you’ll need to be prepared. More to come in the last section.

Approach 3: Proactively bring up competitors

One does not have to wait for the customer to bring up a competitor. There are ways to bring it up directly, especially if there is public facing information (e.g., marketing case study, payment flow online, customer service flow online). You can proactively confirm with questions “I notice you have a case study with XYZ? How does that look [PAUSE]”. Chatgpt/bard can provide more combinations of those questions.

Viable approach? Yes, as part of the good questions in (2). There are risks though which we will discuss in the next section.

Exploring the risks in the 3 approaches

The risks for approach 2 and 3 (where competitors are mentioned and possibly discussed) are the following:

1/ Rabbit holes: You’re selling your product, not your competitors, so while it is helpful to know who else is in the contest, you want to steer the conversation AWAY from focusing on competitors. It’s a tricky balance. As a buyer, I’ve noticed that good sellers to time box, articulate core differences, and then MOVE ON.

2/ Negative conversation: You don’t want to bad mouth another company, even if your critique is fair. Besides there is something to be admired about what competitors do well. That being said, feel free to point to news if there’s anything that a prospect should be aware of — you can direct customers to explore certain areas, ideally areas that the competitor might be weaker at relative to your company.

Separately, the risks for approach 1 (complete avoidance of the topic) is that it seems evasive, or could lead to a missed opportunity for deeper conversation. In fact, if the customer keeps bringing competitors up, it suggests that they don’t see enough differentiation, and that’s valuable feedback.

So what next? Being prepared.

Whatever approach you choose, you should be prepared.

Explain differentiation in strategy

I’ll argue it’s necessary to broadly articulate the differences, or face sounding undifferentiated. It could be difference in:

  • Vision: growth by acquisition vs in house building
  • Target segments
  • Market/region focuses
  • Product availability

In these, you can point to public facing sites for information and recommend further investigations.

Reframe questions

Ask — what can we do better? What are some objections that you / other parts of the organization have? Especially if an existing client is using both you and a competitor, and are evaluating whether to increase “share of wallet”, getting feedback on how you are doing relative to the competitor is crucial. You can also start to influence the questions that your buyer is asking competitors.

Utilize references / case studies.

Humans are social creatures who love knowing what someone else is doing and feel “safer” if other people are doing it too. There were many times as a buyer that I got asked within the company “oh I see XYZ is using competitor ABC, should we consider them too?”. Even better if your reference calls and case studies show revenue uplift — that differentiation speaks for itself.

So, main takeaway — I hope you’re inspired not to tiptoe around the inevitable competitor conversations, and instead embrace preparing for them!

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Celine Wee

Opinions are my own: a collection of Go To Market, Payments, Biz Ops learnings across Stripe, Coinbase, Twitter. I also write @celinewee.substack.com