13 February 2009

Is Competition Bashing Fair Game?

Throughout my career I have always prided myself in acknowledging the competition. After all, this is an industry where we coexist in a very unique way.

Through years spent recruiting agents and building teams I’ve found that agents are motivated and inspired by positive attributes, such as the strength of a company, its market share, the tools and training they will be exposed to,  and, most importantly, the overall culture. I have never witnessed an agent lean towards an opportunity based solely on negative recruitment tactics that include exaggerating  a competitor’s weaknesses or criticizing their products or services.

Sadly, right now, we are seeing ourselves  exposed to what I would call epic levels of  “competition bashing” taking place within  our industry  – verbally, in written communications, and through the Internet — where it is equally as despicable if not all together cowardly. I bring this up now for many reasons but foremost is the sadness I feel given the times. After all, every single one of us faces challenges. In fact, I don’t know a single firm that has escaped the economic vice grip and the pain that it creates.

Disheartening as it may be, the competition bashing taking place right now is so real that in the process of reorganizing their companies, managing layoffs and reconciling costs, broker owners and firms must now make it a point to include in communications to their agents a plea not to succumb to the rumors, the letters, the emails and the callous jokes that are being circulated be competitors.

This is real. It’s happening everyday. And I personally find it reprehensible.

Receiving an email with a photo of a fellow broker’s office rendered to include a foreclosure sign pasted across it is not funny. It’s sad.  This stuff is coming from agents, from broker owners, and shockingly, from corporate executives who should know better.  We should all know better.

What a dual message we’re sending: On one hand we appear as warm, caring servants to the consumer but behind the scenes we expose ourselves as backstabbers, gossipers, or conspirators who apparently take glee in the demise of our peers.

These actions clearly indicate more than poor judgment. They highlight a complete absence of core values that begin at the top and extend out and across the ranks. Without values, behavior never has to answer to the single most important question any member of any organization should be asking themselves: How does this action  support the brand we stand for and help me serve the consumer and our industry?

Our industry is faced with unprecedented challenges which will lead to unprecedented change. But there are those inside our industry who seem intent on making us all look as bad we possibly can.

Come on folks, wake up.


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19 thoughts on “Is Competition Bashing Fair Game?

  1. Sherry,

    great post. Short, to the point and right on. It seems over the last 30 days or so I have been running across more and more of this. I too, have tried to always do my business based on what we have to offer, not how the competition fails. Yet I keep coming across companies willing to make that leap. When the press comes out slamming, the educated people should rise to right the story as N. ROB tries to do with regard to the US New story on Realogy: http://notorious-rob.com/2009/02/11/realogy-sure-sounds-confident/

    You are right, we are all in this together and the stronger we make each other the stronger the industry will be even in tough times.

  2. Sherry, your post reflects one of the downsides of working in an industry where expressive personality types are overly represented. Using gossip and explicit misrepresentation of information to garner an upper hand in a marketplace has been the short cut to “success” for many brokers. Your choice of the word reprehensible is totally appropriate, and yes it show a lack of core values and character in those who practice this type of behavior. So what is an ethical broker to?
    As quickly as possible brokers need to open a dialogue with every member of the team. Be open and transparent with their staff about the company, the marketplace, and the plan for the company. Keeping the staff focused on capturing the share of business required to keep the company moving forward and gaining market share. Over time agents and consumers who have been attracted by the misrepresentations learn that they have been lied to, and no one likes to be played the fool. The only problem is; behaving ethically takes far more time and effort to achieve success. Ethical broker must have a marathoner’s mindset, and a good cheering section.

  3. Fear typically brings out the worst in people –the survival instinct kicks in big time. Tough times can also bring out the best as well. While we certainly can lament about reprehensible and yes, cowardly behavior –the key is to not let it affect us.

    It’s like a soldier witnessing the horrors of war –if we let it fill up our consciousness, we are likely to become a victim ourselves. Just keep doing what you are doing and you will prevail (wounds and all :o)

  4. Hi Sherry,
    It has always bothered me as a vendor partnership to the industry that we also suffer from bashing from so called competitors. Rather than building each other up many take pride in trying to tear others down. I have never subscribed to the “tear down” strategy and I have been in customer service,supprt and sales for more than twenty years. You get abasolutely no where by talking bad about others. The childhood story Cinderella cleary demonstarted, one shoe does not fit all. This goes for real estate franchises, vendor support products, agents, brokers, support programs, buyers, sellers, etc.
    I think it is time for Real Estate to grow up and act it’s age. Stop acting immature and childish. We need to be strong together and encourage our fellow man and woman in these tough times. Tell your sotyr and deliver you value propostion and you will attract the talen that is right for your company. Bashing your neighbor only makes you weak, and afraid. We need tobe strong and positive.

  5. Thanks Sherry

    Competition brings out the best and worst in people.

    In a healthy competitive environment, a certain amount of back and forth between competitors is good. Challenging competitors statements and claims is essential to keep competitors honest and on their toes.

    Sometimes a company can only express their value proposition in relation to a comparision to a competitors. Witness McDonald’s swipe at Starbucks with their “$4 for coffee is dumb” ad. I view this as fair game.

    Competition is not and should not be all hearts and flowers.

    When blatant ill will, however, is expressed it becomes as distasteful as ad hominem attacks.

  6. My thanks to everyone for your feedback. Louis – I agree with healthy competition it keeps everyone on their toes, and quite frankly raises the bar. And as Michael points out – concentrate on what you can control, which is very good advice. If everyone behaved in this manner, well, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to write this post…

  7. Healthy competition is one thing but competition bashing is an other.

    Agents are ripe for the picking and anyone that can make them believe they are more than a dollar sign will ultimately win. I’ve seen agents leave well established firms, go to smaller firms or larger simply because of how the competition makes them feel.

    I’ve been around long enough to know that the grass is never really greener on the other side and If it is to be…It is up to me.

    I’ll keep on Blogging and try to keep my nose clean. 🙂

  8. Looks like Maria was fired up about this one… should I bash her? Or appreciate her passion and conviction (because it looks like she was typing as fast as she could on her cell phone – maybe even mumbling under her breath as well – LOL)? Those of us that know her know she is a fantastic person with fantastic thoughts and experience so for me… I’ll take anything she has to say to heart.

    Anyone that is worth their salt won’t be swayed by competition bashing. If you talk to someone that says they changed their mind because they listened to someone’s bashing then I’m know from personal experience that person would be more trouble to to you than they are worth. Let them go. Anyone that bashes only does so because they haven’t done their homework or they don’t have anything good to say about themselves. And those that listen aren’t any more informed…

    Mr. Internet has a great point as well … they are definitely afraid. Fear many times brings out irrational behavior …

    So the glass is half full from my perspective … they’ve identified themselves so that you know who (and what) they are. And the other agents and brokers in the marketplace will know too…(or already do – such as I’ve mentioned about Vegas).

  9. I think the internet makes it easier for folks to bash their competition. The keyboard provides a safe separation and the prevalent snarkiness on the net makes it easier to cross the line into bashing. It is unfortunate. Hopefully, it is a temporary lapse of judgment— for a prolonged negative campaign rarely produces a victory over your competition.

  10. Sherry, you laid out the gauntlet very well and appropriately. The question then becomes: what is the plan that all of our friends must take to show ethical strength.

    Mr. Byrne’s step is a critical piece: not just the agents but also the support staff must feel like they can trust the leaders and information from their organization. As long as they trust their leaders, they can rationalize (and at this point, to some it may be a rationalization) staying and fighting for the company, and not undermining it themselves. Lose that trust, and the people will believe and spread any and all things evil.

    To those who suggest that someone is weak because they believe rumors, I would offer this: ill rumors don’t attack the mind, but the heart. It is not one rumor or thought that causes someone to fail, but rather the aggregation of rumors seeping in and finding holes in one’s defense. I have known many fine people who through fear have succumbed to this. Diligence can save them and our companies.

    And so I would posit (in agreement with Sherry) that it is our strength that is in play here. But what is the best way to deliver it to those in need?

  11. I would agree that competition bashing is out of control. But I must say that it is just as reprehensible for the largest real estate company in the world, blocks email accounts from companies they don’t want agents communicating with their agents from, place their people on all the MLS and REALTOR boards as directors to influence practices that don’t suit their ends, write white papers and threaten NAR into squashing anything not in their interests, and on and on of reprehensible back room tactics in outright squashing their competition.
    I think this largest real estate company in the world will fall like Goliath, as they simply have not seen the stone hurling directly at their forhead…until just now…and it is to late to get out of the way.
    So it is a very competitive business, and I am afraid Goliath’s tactics and business plan simply have taught the David’s to fight back for their own existense…and for what consumers really want.
    What has given the industry a bad name, is simply filling offices on every corner with hordes of inexperienced agents and charging clients top producer fees based on policy and not agent experience.
    So as they laughed at little David coming to take on Goliath…they are not laughing now.
    Jeffrey Bastress
    Startpoint Realty
    blog: http://www.RealtyRag.com

  12. This is similar to when a seller’s agent doesn’t want to work with a buyer’s agent. Both agents have paying customers and each has one of the two necessary parties needed for the transaction and both parties are interested in doing business.

    Regardless, some seller’s agents see a buyer’s agent as “competition” instead of viewing them as a a partner. The fact is, we’re all in the same business and it would behoove us all to help each other out!

    Jeremy B. Shapiro
    blog: http://www.ForeclosuresMass.com/blog/

  13. Sherry,
    I absolutely agree with you. As Jefferson says, my ‘better angel’ looks at the competition with respect, and I absolutely applaud good ideas, especially when they involve Best Pracitces. BTW- we all are watching you and what you are doing with BHG, and we are applauding you! At least once a week I hear someone talking about something you posted or said, it’s making everyone say – hmmmm, BHG is everwhere! (Still loving C21!)

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