Trust Tip 65: Refer Your Competitors

Refer your competitors to your clients in the sales process.

Yes, I do mean it. This is not a sarcastic title, or a clever trick. But I’ll warn you: your motives will affect your outcome.

Step One—check your objective. Is it:

a. To get the sale, or
b. To do the right thing by the customer.

Now multiply by 10 times—the next ten similar sales opportunities.

If your objective is always “get the sale,” then well before number ten, everyone will know you’re in it for yourself, short-term. You’ll have a reputation. You’ll win about the same percentage as your market share—say, 30% for sake of discussion.

If your objective is to do the right thing by the customer, then well before number ten, everyone will know you’re in it long-term, to help them. You’ll have a different reputation. And (can you say “paradox”?), your own success rate will get better—say, 40% or higher.

Option b doesn’t mean you’re not in it for yourself—just that it’s not your primary objective, and you’re willing to trust a longer-term process.

Step Two—admit you’re not always the perfect choice for every customer. (If this feels hard, and your market share is less than 100%, consider the implications of believing you’re always the best: either your customers are very stupid, or you can’t sell a perfect product.)

Let’s review. Your objective is to help your customer (which also gets you better sales numbers), and you admit that your product isn’t always the best.

Step 3: Therefore: shouldn’t you offer your customer informed advice about other alternatives? Shouldn’t you refer your competitors as a possible alternative?

The best reason to do this is—because it’s the right thing. But there are ancillary reasons:

a. Being willing to refer a competitor is the most direct indicator of your having the customer’s interests at heart. If makes it look like you care (note: don’t try faking this).
b. In those rare cases where you convince someone against their better interests to use you instead of someone better suited for them, odds are that everything will unravel and you’ll regret it. Take one small loss and consider it an investment in good will.

Think this is suicidal? Try forwarding this blog to your existing clients, saying how crazy I am, and that you would never be so stupid as to point them to anyone but yourself, because…because…well, you try and explain it.

If you agree with me, and you are a buyer of goods or services, consider forwarding this blog to your suppliers, asking them to educate you regarding choices in their industry. And see how they respond.

The best ones have already done so. The next best will meet the test and give you some great info—be good to those suppliers, they just took a risk to help you.

And those who tell you there’s no need to review because they’re the best—well, you know what to do.

Do I follow my own advice? At least in this case, yes (exceptions: when they know they want me, know exactly why, and I agree).

Here are the seven names I mention most frequently to prospective clients in the sales process, depending on the particular client need:

a. David Maister
b. Jeff Thull,
c. Duke Corporate Education,
d. Ford Harding,
e. BossaNova Consulting,
f. Rob Galford,
g. Scott Parker,

They are all excellent. Besides,to serve up creampuff dummy names would defeat the whole purpose.

How do you say the words? Try this:

“We both win if you make the best decision. Given my understanding of your situation, if you haven’t already done so, you should also be talking to X and Y. If you do so, it’ll help our discussions.”

Is it a trust thing? You bet.

0 replies
  1. Ford Harding
    Ford Harding says:

    Charlie, many thanks for the endorsement. You know from experience that I happily refer people to you. This has worked well for both of us, and, more importantly, for our clients.

    We interview rainmakers as a part of the development of our knowledge base.  Some of the most successful ones have argued that it is best to refer a client elsewhere, if you think that someone else can do a better job for them. One describes the usual whatever-your-problem-I-can-fix-it approach as  strip mining.


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