Today, I Felt Good About Recommending a Competitor

Peter Bryant

Aug 2016 ⋅ 3 min read

Am I crazy? Possibly. But I felt good about it. Here's what happened.

Someone contacted me about subscribing to our software. They explained their use case, and specified a particular need that we just can't fill.

Yesterday, I might have tried my utmost to find workarounds for them or promise to have the system changed for them.

Today, having read a great article by Len Markidan on Groove, I made the call that our solution wasn't the right one for this individual.

More than that — I even took the opportunity to recommend a competitor on the basis that they would be able to meet his needs better.

Why did I do this? Because this protects the client, and it protects our business.

How is the client protected?

In this instance, the client is protected from spending their money on a system which doesn't meet their requirements.

Their money is important to them, and they're not going to be pleased if they've been convinced to pay for something that, at the risk of sounding like a PPI advert, they didn't want or need.

How are you protected?

Funnily enough, there are loads of benefits for you in these situations:

  1. By asking the individual to sign up, you would be promising to help them with the workarounds they needed. That's a lot of work for you, and that time could be spent supporting other clients, or improving the software.
  2. You're protecting yourself from legal action. It's against the law to sell something to someone if you've told them it does something that it doesn't. This is slightly different to selling something on the basis that you can fit their needs to the product using workarounds, but it's an area you should be wary of.
  3. You come across as genuine, and not desperate. Promising to cater for someone's every need even if it means a load of work sounds like you're begging for their business; being able to turn someone away shows that you have pride in your product, and have your clients' best interests at heart. You may find yourself with a brand advocate on the merits of your honest customer service.

Why should I protect someone who isn't going to pay?

As Len states in his post, there is a fundamental difference between customers and clients.

A customer is someone who pays you money for your product/service. A client is someone under your protection.

Your customers are a subset of your clients.

They are the clients who are paying for your product/service - but everyone who comes into contact with you is a client, so you should protect someone even if they aren't a paying customer.

The idea of everyone being a client, whether or not they are paying, can seem like an odd one at first.

However, the advice and support at the point of first contact is part of the service that you provide, and if you're providing a service to someone, then they are a client.

It's akin to going to a shop: you could spend however long you want asking for advice about the best thing to buy. You expect to be given the best possible service, even without the expectation that you will definitely buy something.

If you have a good customer experience but can't find anything that meets your needs, you might well return in the future.

Keeping everyone protected is crucial when deciding whether to pursue a sale. Turning away customers whose needs you do not meet allows your business to grow, shows that you care, and ultimately means you are giving the client an opportunity to find a better solution. Everybody wins!