October 22, 2014

Column from Florida Trend's Business Coach

Don't worry about your competition - but don't ignore them either.

Ron Stein | 6/25/2012

I once had a boss who told me not to worry about the competition and just worry about selling. What exactly did he mean by this?

Of course, he was a sales manager that didn’t have a strategic bone in his body. (Disclaimer: I am not saying all sales leaders lack strategic thinking -- just this one!). His only worry was how we were going to make quota for the quarter. In this context it’s easy to believe that he meant just what he said.

Yet, there is a hint of wisdom here. The key was the last part of his statement -- “just worry about selling.”

Knowing something about your competition is important. Understanding what you’re up against gives you an edge -- not only because of your competition’s weaknesses. It’s an opportunity to learn what they’re doing right and what mistakes to avoid. And that helps you to position your products and services in the market, demonstrating why you’re better.

Not knowing anything about the competition is just flat out wrong!

Competitive offerings will impact what customers expect from your company -- there’s just no way around that. But, if you focus too much time and energy on competitors, you’ll become diverted from your mission instead of doing what you need to get done and succeed.

It’s a balancing act. Like many other aspects of your business, good enough is better than perfect. Know enough about your competitors to be prepared -- just don’t spend an excessive amount of time researching them to death. Your prospects and customers will ultimately decide for you how much information is enough.

The only thing that counts is what customers think. The world does not revolve around you and your company -- or your competition. It’s all about your audience and what they want. The better you understand them, the less you’ll need to worry about competition. But, don’t assume there are no competitors hanging around either. Ask lots of good questions to flush this out and listen for clues. Never say, “We’re better than Acme Widgets” because when you do, you’re now marketing from a defensive and negative position. Sell to your unique strengths and your customer’s needs -- you’ll outshine the competition without ever mentioning them!

Worry about what you can control. Your main concern should be to focus on your business priorities while keeping competition in the back of your mind, not the other way around. What do your need to worry about? Not figuring out the right strategy, not executing on your strategy, not delivering value to your customers, and not quickly making changes to your plans as the market evolves. The greatest differentiators are the expertise and superior products or services that help your customers achieve their goals. Exceed expectations and provide tremendous value. This is best way to separate your business from the competition.

Don’t obsess over competitors. Don’t ignore them either. A balance must be struck, particularly in this age of limited company resources. Make everyone in your company responsible for collecting anything they learn about competitors. Create an easy to use central repository called “heard it through the grapevine” where people can add tidbits of competitive information they come across in conversations with customers, from trade sources, or while attending a workshop. Designate a catcher in your company to establish it and keep it organized. Folders in free company and individual Dropbox accounts is a great way to set this up.

Many businesses assume that competitors know something they don’t. That’s crazy! Worrying too much about competitors is a good way to lose objectivity and get sidetracked. On the other hand, not knowing anything about what others are up to will get you into trouble. Just don’t let it consume you.

The key is to outperform your competition by focusing on what’s important to you and your customers. Lead with a strategy and solution you believe in and that emphasizes your strengths.


Read earlier columns from Florida Trend's business coach, Ron Stein
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Ron Stein is the founder and President of FastPath Marketing (www.marketing-strategies-guide.com). He has more than 20 years experience in sales, marketing, and business development, working positions ranging from salesman to vice president of sales and marketing to CEO of startups with industry leaders such as Motorola, VideoServer, Paradyne, and SercoNet. Ron is a member of the advisory team at the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a nationally recognized entrepreneurial and startup accelerator for the state of Florida. He can be reached at 727-398-1855 or Ron@FastPathMarketing.com

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