We are often asked this question when we are engaging with potential new clients as well as others like, “Who are your competitors?” The rationale and basis for the questions are clear; it’s about the questioner and prospective client managing risk (personal and organizational) as well as trying to gather some insight into what makes a company or service unique, and/or the right fit.

We get it. You invest a lot of time and resources in making your purchasing decisions and you put your credibility on the line with your colleagues and often your own clients. You can’t afford to make a mistake and these questions are the starting point to managing that risk before you even get into the evaluation of features and functions.

How long have you been in business?” is really a question about stability and how that relates to risk. Length of time in business is a benchmark measurement indicating a company has solid prospects to be around for a while. When you move further down the evaluation process, additional validation will take the form of things like client references. In Building Engines’ case, we’ve been licensing our real estate operations software platform since 2001. We have worked hard and certainly had some good fortune along the way. But we have succeeded primarily by diligently listening to our clients, managing our business effectively, and adding to that a vision for our product and services that has resonated with well our clients and market. Our 98% lifetime client retention rate is solid validation of that.

The “Who are your competitors?” question is an interesting one.  While we all wish we were in a business with no competition, that is rarely a reality. This question is an opportunity for a service provider to articulate how they believe they are perceived by their clients and the market and to help clarify their unique characteristics for the benefit of the prospect. Prospective clients need to understand this, particularly for offerings that on the surface appear to be commoditized.

Its disingenuous for a company to say “we don’t have any competitors” and it’s very bad form to be dismissive of those they do acknowledge or are asked about. We respect our competitors and know that competition is good for our markets, and we certainly respect our client’s intelligence. We know that when we begin conversations with prospective clients, they are likely already very well-informed about who the major service providers are. They have done their Internet research and perhaps gathered some referrals. What they may not know is what makes us unique, and potentially the right fit to help solve their specific business needs. They need to hear this from us. We actually recently presented the competitive landscape, and characteristics of the various types of offerings available to help manage commercial real estate properties and other facilities in an earlier blog post several weeks ago.

So, we expect, understand and welcome these questions from prospective clients. We often ask the same ones ourselves when we are  evaluating a potential service provider for our business. The way a company and salesperson responds to these early qualification question give us an early indication of what kind of partner they would be – and what kind of risk they represent. A superior provider will never shy away from the hard questions and a chance to distinguish themselves with an open, honest conversation.