While at a networking event this week, I had an intriguing conversation with a friend who is in sales.  He had just lost a major prospective client and was still visibly frustrated by it. I asked him where he thought he had gone awry with the pitch.

My friend (who we’ll call Ken) scheduled an appointment with his prospect to “seal the deal.” He knew his company was on the shortlist and it was between them and another provider. Ken had done his homework and prepared a presentation he believed truly highlighted the benefits of doing business with his company. On the morning of the appointment, Ken’s manager (we’ll call him Manager Joe) decided this was a big enough deal that he should come along on this appointment.

Once settled into the appointment, Manager Joe asked the prospect who their competition was, and the prospect told him. Enlightened with that information, Manager Joe began a tirade of badmouthing the competition and sharing “horror stories” of why the prospect should not want to work with them. At that point, Ken said, he felt a noticeable shift in the atmosphere of the room. Early on into his presentation he knew he was not landing his points. This prospect, who had been so warm in previous appointments, was noticeably cool in their reception of his carefully prepared information.

He lost the sale, of course, and Manager Joe blamed Ken’s presentation skills.

I felt compelled to point out to my friend that it most probably had very little to do with his presentation skills, or the data he presented, or the obvious value of what he was offering. The sale was lost the moment Manager Joe chose to badmouth the competition. Multiple consumer studies have proven that people are less likely to buy from a company with an employee they perceive as rude – even if the rudeness is not directed at them. If Manager Joe was so eager to bad-mouth the competition, what is the likelihood that he will also badmouth his customers? Probably very high.

In a sales environment, treating each other with respect has to extend to our competition. Even if all the things that Manager Joe had shared were completely true, the Higher Ground perspective would be to focus all the energy in the room on why a prospect would benefit from working with you (positive), rather than why they should not work with someone else (negative). THAT would have “sealed the deal.”