checkWe had an interesting conversation with an important potential client the other day. It was a marketing VP and they said something that a lot of marketing VPs probably say: “How can you prove to me that you’re the best?”

It’s a fair question for which we should probably have a canned response. But instead, I think I said something like “I don’t know, how could I possibly prove that to you?” I don’t know his experiences with past companies. I don’t know the kind of ROI that he expects or has gotten elsewhere. We have client testimonials, but these days, aren’t those assumed to be a paid-for commodity? How can I ever judge my own company’s relative performance, especially since each client’s needs are different?

The rest of our conversation was about the things that I do know: our metrics, our results, our company philosophy, and about other interesting stuff. But what I refused to say is “here is how and why we’re the best.” It’s not my job to judge other companies and people. It’s the client’s responsibility to gauge whether or not we’re the best relative to other companies.

When I was in recruiting, a lot of potential clients would ask similar questions (demands), like “Why would I want to work with you over ABC company?, “What do you do differently than XYZ company?”, or “Prove to me that I should want to work with you over other recruiting firms.” It’s the type of question that no company should ever answer. Decisions are up to clients. When you’re playing the vendor role, it’s up to you to talk about what you do well and demonstrate a past history supporting that success. Beyond that, the “prove that you’re the best” question should really be turned to the client – “What does the best mean to you? What are looking for? What was good about working with your best vendor?”

I was reminded of this recent article on being a top recruiting firm. Why are we all obsessed with calling ourselves the top and best of anything? Aren’t we all as companies good at X, great at Y, not so good at C, and awful at D? But should we ever call ourselves the best? Would we ever want to be?

I hope that as a company we can grow to be brutally honest with ourselves and our clients. Client relationships should be just that – relationships. And good relationships are founded on a real understanding of who the other person is. In sales as in any good conversation, both people have to pay attention to the other – and care. We’re going to try to forget about being the best and focus on understanding ourselves and our clients.

I’ll let you know how that sale goes. Or doesn’t go. ;)

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