Guerrilla Intelligence Dont Bad Mouth the Competition

Don't criticize competitors. Clients will likely see your comments as unprofessional, and they may interpret your criticism as disparaging their judgment in selecting a consultant in the first place. When you attack others, you run the risk of undermining your credibility. Be quick to praise when it's deserved and slow to criticize when you perceive faults.

To compete effectively against an incumbent, your project strategy must be distinguishable from that of the incumbent. If it's not, the client probably won't be willing to incur the costs and endure the headaches of bringing in a new consultant.

Call on reinforcements to advance your case. Arrange for past clients to speak directly to the current client. Don't rely exclusively on written testimonials—personal contacts are more powerful in such situations.

Even though the client may be familiar with your white papers, reports, and articles, use them to reinforce and demonstrate your knowledge, experience, and perspectives. Once again, your task is to differentiate yourself from the competition. But that task is more focused and directed when you know exactly who the competition is— in this case, the incumbent.

► Fending Off New Competitors

You're working at a client's site, and you look up to see your client giving the grand tour to two people you know—rival consultants. Uh oh, what are they doing here? Sometimes the tables are reversed, and you are the incumbent when the client calls in new consultants. Consider yourself lucky if you learn about it in advance. Business with clients is never secure, so always expect to be challenged.

Don't jump to conclusions when you find out that you have a challenger. Quietly give your team the intruder alert: Stay cool, be cooperative, and remain focused on the project. But circle the wagons. Guard your tongues and your work papers.

When competing for a business process improvement project, a careless consultant left multiple copies of the team's entire proposal on a table in the client's copier room. Unknowingly, the client's mail clerk put the copies in a manila envelope and delivered them to the competition. The careless consultant's firm narrowly won the project, but his lapse nearly cost the firm the engagement.

Competitors may surface because clients ask for their help. In other instances, rival consultants may appear because they are investing in a new line of service and trying to sell it your client. Whatever the reason, the best time to plan your response to competitors is before they arrive.

When your clients are pleased with your work, incumbency provides an advantage against challengers. That advantage can quickly vanish, however, if you neglect client relationships. Your first and best defense is to develop client-level marketing plans for the clients you want to keep. We discuss such plans in detail in Chapter 19, but

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