How do you feel about your competition? Do you think you have a great relationship with the other builders in your market? Think about it: Given the choice of having you in business or out of business, your competitors would probably give you directions to the unemployment office before they’d direct you to a potential sale.

Is friendly competition possible in today's dog-eat-dog market? Of course, it would be nice if all salespeople took turns, played fair, and looked out for each other. Imagine if you went to work one day and your closest competitor said, “Hey, I got the last sale for my builder. It’s only fair that the next one is yours, so here’s a lead to follow up.”

A little competition can keep you on your toes while too much can knock you off your feet. As with all areas of life, there’s a healthy balance. Learn to deal with it and maximize its benefits. Here are some suggestions:

Get to know your competition. Some competitors are cooperative, ethical, and willing to trade business with you. But most are the opposite of “friendly.” Although they aren’t hostile, they also aren’t eager to share profits and prospects. They will probably be uncooperative, unmotivated, and disinterested in helping you succeed. Internally, they are probably wishing you would find another profession or at least move outside their market territory.

Learn how to approach competing firms. Rivalry should not lead to battles. Instead, learn all you can, be prepared, and do your best. Shop your competitors regularly. Know how they sell and how customers perceive the benefits of doing business with them. Identify their shortcomings and strengths and pick up every piece of information, brochures, and pricing sheets that you can and review them. Know where they stand in the marketplace. What’s their reputation?

Generate a professional relationship. Even when going head to head for the same prospect, never say anything bad about your competitors, even if they criticize you in front of a customer. Maintain your ethics and integrity – even if it means biting your tongue until it bleeds.

Talk to your customers. In situations like this, ask your clients why they are considering your competition, then show them how you differ and how your benefits are superior Share a testimonial from a customer who was in a similar situation and decided to do business with you. In the event you do not conclude the sale, remember that customers are fickle and will often sacrifice price and square footage for a trusting relationship, so be sure to follow up.

Realtor and general contractor Myers Barnes is author of seven books, including Secrets of New Home Sales Negotiation. He is the founder of Kitty Hawk, N.C.-based Myers Barnes Associates.