Recently, a bank has been running a national ad campaign that has strengthened my distaste of negative advertising.

As best I can tell, the gist of this company's ads is that other banks are frauds and charlatans. But this bank is changing banking! It is going to be honest!

Actually, this line of attack is not new and not exactly cutting-edge. I'd also suggest that the easiest and least creative sales approach is slandering the competition. It's also the most shortsighted.

I've joked with groups in the past that I can usually tell when an ad campaign has been conceptualized entirely by nonbankers. They tend to use boilerplate cliches and seem to have some deep-seated antipathy for banks. Conveniently enough, the bank that is paying them big dollars for that marketing campaign is totally different.

So their campaigns typically boil down to: "We're not like all of those other banks."

But I am puzzled by bankers who think that they can propagate some of the common (and almost always false) stereotypes about banks and not pay a price for it themselves. It's next to impossible to build trust in your company by seeding distrust of your industry.

Of course, with the nonstop bank-bashing that has occurred over the past year, it may be that some banks have Stockholm syndrome. They've come to believe the falsehoods they've heard and read about their industry. (I think I'm kidding.)

Thankfully, an interaction with a young branch manager last week gave me hope that there are still folks out there with the right attitude. While visiting a newly opened branch with a senior manager, I had a few minutes to chat with the branch manager and a few of his team members.

He shared with me some of their marketing strategies for attracting small business customers and said that he had already paid personal visits to many of the businesses surrounding his branch.

He also explained that he had previously worked for one of the stronger competitors in that market, so he knew their business products as well as his current bank's products. Unprompted, he offered, "I've got my work cut out for me. Some of our competitors have really good people and products, too."

I quickly asked him one of my favorite questions: "What does your bank have to offer that no other bank can match?" Without missing a beat, the young man smiled and said, "They have me."

My smile matched his because that was exactly the right answer and exactly the right philosophy. The other guys are good, but we're going to be better.

He also made a great point when he said, "I can't stand it when people go to work for a new bank and then tell everyone they call upon how bad their old bank was. I just want to ask them, 'OK, when were you lying — then or now?' "

Through the years, one of my favorite soapbox topics has been the importance of avoiding competitor-bashing in conversations with potential customers. And this is true even when the customer is the one who initiates the grousing.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we should be in the business of counseling our competitors' customers for them. But we do need to be conscious that simply being the lesser of two evils isn't the preferred strategy.

Yet far too many folks choose to take the seemingly easier path of attempting to build their case by focusing conversations on every negative they can drag out about their competitors. What they fail to realize is that too much focus on other companies' faults suggests a lack of confidence in their own abilities.

They also run the very real risk that a longtime customer of a bank will end up (at least psychologically) defending his longtime provider if he feels like there is piling-on occurring. Overly negative sales pitches can actually turn a competitor's unsatisfied customer into their defender. That's not exactly a sales-culture best practice.

The most competent and confident people (and businesses) aren't hesitant in acknowledging worthy competition. In reality, when we speak highly (or at least nondisparagingly) of our competitors, customers are more willing to believe the positive attributes we claim for ourselves.

If you are confident enough to acknowledge a competitor's positive points, you are obviously even more confident in your, and your company's, abilities to provide a superior alternative. And customers are drawn far more to positive messages and confident behavior than to negativity and snark.

Make a point to remind your team now and again that sustainable success depends much more on building up your own reputation than in tearing down the competition's.

Best-of-class organizations almost always share a distinctive trait: Class.

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