Ever walked through a shopping centre and suddenly been confronted with a new product that is the very product you deal in and had that sinking feeling of “Yet another competitor to outmanoeuvre”.
But how do you outmanoeuvre competitors? As a business coach I need to say that the only way to really get to grips with them is to know about them, how they operate and what they are doing to make themselves attractive to customers – and then beat them at their own game.
In the business world gathering information about other businesses that could have a significant impact on the way you conduct your own business is known as competitive intelligence and two really good sources of competitive intelligence are close at hand and relatively cheap to tap into – the competitors themselves and the people who might use their product.
Find out what competitors say about themselves
Understanding how your competitors are selling themselves and their products is useful to understanding how to best compete with them. There are a number of recommended ways to gather competitor intelligence, some of them quite time consuming and expensive. But by and large you can get quite a good feel for what the competitor is up to by looking at the obvious sources; their own store, their website, their advertisements. As well, your salespeople will have spoken to customers and suppliers about your competitors so get their insights also. You can even order a product from your competitor and compare their packaging, service and quality to your own.
What they say about themselves is often a great insight into what they feel their strengths are, reveals their product range and what features they promote (and so think will be attractive to customers), shows what channels they use for marketing (do they have a website or use email as well as the yellow pages – should you be thinking of following suite?), what product support and guarantees they offer. How do your products and customer service rate against them?
Know what others say about your competitors – and about you
The other great source of information is the consumer of products like yours. Surveying a group of people likely to be in the market for what you supply and getting their opinions about your product and your competitor’s version can provide invaluable insights on how to make your offering more attractive. Do they buy from you because you have a wider range? Do they prefer the competition because they provide free parking or have a customer loyalty scheme running? Those customer decisions affect your profit, so knowing what they value is important.
In my role as a business coach I have conducted these many times and recommend a focus group with your A-type customers. Shape Your Business also has a system for use by other advisers. An independent presenter like a business coach can be an advantage – people are naturally reluctant to be negative to the business owner in person but it’s the customer turn-offs that you really need to know. This will collect information you can use to evaluate your own performance against the competition, suggest ideas for exploiting their weaknesses and even identify potential new customers.
Take control of the game
Competition is a fact of life in business and you have to have some type of an edge to be the winner. You may have an excellent product or service, but if everyone else is selling something similar, then just how much of the market can you expect to capture?
Getting to know your competitors is the first step, and the most important, in winning a competitive edge. You can use the knowledge to play the game better yourself by considering what you have learned from customers about what they really value or ways to stand out from the competition. And you can pick up ideas on how to play the game differently, for instance in recognising currently unmet customer needs that would provide market opportunities for you or new ways and places to advertise.
What are your thoughts?