In a previous career I was a technology reviewer for the largest computer publisher in Canada (audited 400,000 national circulation back then). Sometimes I was invited on press junkets, aka trips paid for by vendors.
My first was to Lexington, KY, the headquarters of Lexmark, which had invited 150 technology writers from around the world to visit for three days.
Kentucky was beautiful, everyone was wonderful, and thanx to the experience of our guide, Lexmark Canada executive Peter, every meal better than the previous (an amazing accomplishment, for sure).
All available Lexmark executives made time to interact with us. One had read my review of a new printer. Instead of arguing with me, he actually listened, and then went back to the lab to address the faults I’d found. Interestingly, that model didn’t stay on the market very long.
We learned about emerging technology, such as keyboards that could be rolled up and stuffed into a backpack, and tables made from materials that illuminated a glow by themselves.
Most impressive was the new Lexmark sales doctrine – if Lexmark didn’t have a solution that fit the customer’s needs, the Lexmark rep was to suggest a competitor’s product.
Yes, you read that correctly.
“If we don’t have what you need, let’s see if our competition does.”
(Sales VPs, directors, and managers reading this are shaking their heads.)
Isn’t there one product that comes close enough to providing what the customer wants, that we could make them buy?
“Nope, we’re not gonna lie and say ours will do the job when it won’t.”
WHY would anybody recommend buying from a competitor?
“Someday you or someone you know might need something we provide. We hope you remember how Lexmark steered you toward the best solution FOR YOU… instead of the best solution for Lexmark and its salespeople.”
Hmm… treating customers the way we prefer to be treated.
How unusually candid. How refreshingly considerate. How untypically corporate.
Sometime later this unusual policy arose in a conversation with a graphic artist at the public library of a very large Canadian city.
She confirmed that she’d wanted a Lexmark printer, and since Lexmark didn’t have what she needed, the Lexmark rep had suggested a competing product. (No, I don’t recall which one.)
As a result her entire department was aware of the Lexmark policy and vowed to buy Lexmark the next time they needed printers. Whether or not that actually happened, I’ve no idea.
Perhaps those who fully intended to buy Lexmark printers in the future truly did. Or perhaps other factors arose that caused them to buy elsewhere.
Nor do I know if Lexmark continues that practice, because I haven’t reviewed a printer in a very long time. Just now when I checked I didn’t see that policy mentioned on the Lexmark website (if the policy still exists then not trumpeting it is a marketing mistake, in my view).
I recall there have been a few times when after carefully listening to what a client wants, I’ve recommended another writer better suited to the task. Other writers have sent clients to me for the same reason. That’s common among individuals.
And while the actions of a few vendors have caused me to buy elsewhere and never return… I’ve yet to experience any vendor in any industry tell me to buy from a competitor, let alone help me do so.
What about you?
Is this a policy your firm might adopt?
Or is this an unrealistic notion aimed at generating warm and fuzzy feelings in a pretend land of rainbows and unicorns?
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