When using comparison charts hurts sales.

Being in marketing, one would think that I’m an adversary of sales. There is, of course, a traditional conflict between marketing and sales. It’s a conflict that is often Comparison Chartaddressed in marketing conference sessions, and there are consulting firms that focus entirely on helping marketing and sales departments work as a team.

But I love salespeople. I spent six years in their shoes and know that their direct contact with prospects and customers gives them valuable insight into the prospects’ mindset. What are their pains? What are their objections? What product features get their attention? It’s all information that is vital in creating truly targeted marketing messages.

It’s sales, in fact, that often suggests to marketing that their company’s Web site or marketing messages should include a chart to compare its product with the competition. This suggestion typically comes from hearing prospects mention solutions they are considering during the research and evaluation process.

Just like there are best practices for other marketing issues, there are those for using comparison charts. So, in this case, sales shouldn’t always get their way. Here’s why:

Market Leaders
Companies that are industry leaders should avoid mentioning the competition by name. In the minds of prospects, mentioning the competition will raise those lowly competitors to their level and bring them to the attention of prospects.

The Little Guys
This is the category in which comparisons are the most effective and are a productive marketing tool. When a start-up compares its product or service to the big guys, it provides a clear frame of reference for the prospect and brings them up to the level of the leaders. That’s why it’s such a big boost for smaller firms when they are mentioned by Forrester, Gartner, etc. That single mention instantly puts a little guy in the same league with the market leaders.

Mid-Market Companies
Comparison charts can work for this market position but should follow the two rules above. It’s OK to compare products and services with the market leaders but not to mention the firms below mid-market.

When a company’s product or service compares well to competitors, it is tempting to show that comparison in marketing materials. However, market leaders or mid-market companies should consider their market position before doing so. Otherwise comparisons should be reserved for sales to show to an individual prospect if that prospect is looking at a specific competitor. Not before.

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