A while ago I was listening to an interview with Phil Libin, former Evernote CEO - quite an inspiring guy and one thing that resonated with me was that he doesn't really spend much time thinking about his competitors.
We're not Evernote but I decided a long time ago that our sales team wouldn't talk about our competitors negatively - or at all really. Removing the negative focus enables us to stay positively focused on our own products.
I have never been impressed by sales people who criticize their competitors. For one thing, a lot of our competitors are very good and another key factor is that whether good or bad I don't have enough knowledge about their offerings to comment even if I wanted to - of course there were times when I really, really wanted to ...
I'm not averse to knowing about my competitors' products but to be honest I prefer to spend my time learning about my customers' needs.
At the end of the day selling is about relationship, and negativity about others (in my opinion) doesn't help my audience to form a positive bond with me and my product - I might have very valid criticisms of other players but why would a customer care about my opinions ?
And to take this a bit further, If we really believe that building trust based relationships is important then why not recommend our competitors if we know their product fits that specific need better than ours does - chances are we'll save ourselves a great deal of pain trying to get our solution to meet the requirement and we'll hopefully have demonstrated that we are interested in long term gain over short term wins. This isn't an entirely hypothetical question as I have referred enquiries to other companies in our space, but I'm definitely a work in progress and I can't guarantee that I always practice what I preach !
Maybe it's because our base is in Aberdeen - a city that looks like a town and behaves like a village, but I know a lot of my competitors and like quite a few of them - I don't treat them as adversaries. there are areas where we overlap but there are always areas where we don't.
And maybe being respectful of our competitors is good training for providing awesome service to our customers !