Does business have to be dog-eat-dog?

Since I left my job back in April to pursue my own business interests I've been on something of a rollercoaster ride of discovery. I've had the good fortune to work with some very talented, knowledgable and committed people and to be challenged by the work I've been hired to do. On the whole it's been more interesting, rewarding and fun than I could have imagined.

Afew weeks ago something happened that made me stop and question why I'm in business and whether I've got what it takes to succeed in business in the long run.

I'm doing some work as a technical advisor for a company, let's call them company A, that produces a piece of software that aids accessibility on the web. Everyone I've dealt with at the company is committed, friendly and knowledgable, and they have a great, successful product. It's the sort of company I hope Champion IS might become in time - always looking for ways to improve the user experience and focussed on their product and their clients.

So when their closest competitor (let's call them company X) started mailing company A's clients with aggressive and pernicious marketing, trashing company A's product with false claims and promoting their own product, I was appalled. It shouldn't have been entirely surprising - company X has a history of dodgy marketing, and has a poor reputation in certain circles - but the two companies are market leaders and have very little other opposition in their sector.

I don't want to go into any detail about the content of that marketing, or what company A will or should do in response, but instead want to consider what it says about company X and whether my reaction was a symptom of naivety. Here are some questions:

  1. To be successful in business do you have to attack the opposition?
  2. Is it naive to think that producing high quality work and maintaining high quality customer service are enough to survive if not thrive in business?
  3. How would you respond if you were company A?

Feel free to guess the companies' identities, but don't expect me to validate them. :-)

Comments

1. I've personally never responded well to that sort of marketing. I don't think many people do. Having said that, I think there are some instances when it's fair game. If your competitor is making false claims about their product or yours to gain an unfair advantage then I think it is fair to respond with some vitriol. (For instance: Virgin vs BA)

2. No it's not naive at all. I think that's how all good business wins and keeps customers. Dodgy marketing only achieves short term goals with the risk of long-term damage I think unless your product is truly superior in some way.

3. I wouldn't rest on my laurels. I think I'd do a mail-out to my customers and put the matter straight. I'd also consider sueing for damages if there was a case as that could result in a public apology from company X, which I would also distribute. Alternatively I would call up the CEO of company X and challenge him to a bare chested dual Spock v Kirk style, but that's because I'm old-fashioned.

I will take a guess:
Based on the evidence I would say this is Browsealound vs Readspeaker, but I'm not going to guess which is A or X. Am I right?

Posted by: Grant Broome at October 1, 2007 2:57 PM

It's a very risky strategy for company X to be behaving like that. It doesn't take a genius that a bit of word of mouth or a few pages on the web could severely impact X's reputation.

The above marketing tactics could be down to an individual (or handful of individuals) who don't know what they are doing. Sounds like a pretty immature approach.

If it were me, I would go straight to the top of company X and ask questions in a friendly way.

It's also probably more of an 'old' bully boy way of doing things. I like to think most people mean and do well. But that's probably me being naive and wishful.

Posted by: Rosie Sherry at October 1, 2007 5:03 PM

1. Never attack the opposition. Promote yourself but never openly criticize your competitors. First of all it's in poor taste, and in the long term can be suicide. Customers will grow weary of that attitude quickly.

2. No, it's not naive at all. It's a sure way to build a long term and stable business. You still have to market and promote yourself and the fact that your business shines because... to get jobs fast, but it's quality work will serve you in the long term.

3. I wouldn't. I'd focus on what I do and do it the best I can. People aren't stupid and they'll see through Company X in due time. There may be legal recourse but I feel this is a more desperate and you'll risk expending resources and focus on something that doesn't deserve the attention. By all means, don't rest on your laurels, keeping working hard and advise Company A to not let Company X under its skin.

It sounds like Company X has a pretty inexperienced management staff if this is happening.

Posted by: Mike Cherim at October 3, 2007 5:29 AM

1. No, i would never attack the opposition, but I would publicly respond to these attacks. Calmly and objectively stating my beliefs that they are out of line and their claims erroneous

2. Not at all, many ethical companies thrive in this manner.

3. Visit their headquarters at midnight and sow alf-alfa seeds into the carpets and water well.

Posted by: jim at November 14, 2007 3:37 PM

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