Don’t kid yourself that you don’t have any competitors! Even if you are offering the latest, most whizzy technology, someone else will be trying to meet your prospects needs with what they have. Failing that, you may well be competing against ‘no decision’ as outlined in Bob Apollo’s post from 2009 here. It’s a tough world out there!
Given that you most likely have some traditional competitors, how much do you actually know about them?
Bryony Thomas of Watertight Marketing asked this via Twitter:
Do you think tracking & watching competitors is valuable market research or a de-motivating distraction?
You can see her take on the issue in her blog post Competitors – A Wise or Wasteful Use of your Time?
My immediate response was that it is vital to know what your competitors are doing. Bryony came straight back with ‘Why is it vital?’ which set me thinking, which resulted in this blog post!
Current thinking in sales and marketing says that it’s no longer enough to have a selling process. A selling process can be defined as “The complete set of steps that must take place in order to execute a sales transaction from start to finish. The selling process may include such events as the initial contact, product demonstrations, trial periods, bidding, price negotiations, signing of contracts, and delivery of the product or service being sold.” I’ve kept all that stuff in to show you it’s a reasonably complex process.
Not only should you have a selling process, you should align it to your customers buying process. After all, what your company does should be guided primarily by what your target markets want. This includes the way they want to buy.
However, I’m a firm believer that you can never have too much knowledge. Therefore, your understanding of your customer should extend beyond ‘how he wants to buy’ to ‘what he wants to buy and why’. Of necessity, this will include an understanding of your competitors.
I’m not advocating that you should spend every waking hour watching what your competitors are doing but you should always have it in mind.
- If you and your competitors are offering something similar, you need to identify the differentiating points.
- If you are offering something too far away from them, your naturally conservative customers (that’s all of them, if you haven’t noticed) will dismiss your offer as ‘out there.’
- If you are offering something disruptive, you need to understand what they are offering so that you can put clear blue water between you. Really go to town on that differentiation.
- If they are offering something disruptive (and it really works) then you need to establish very quickly how you are going to react or you may find yourself without any business.
Yes, it really happened
I used to sell a measurement system into steel mills. This system was factory calibrated for life. That’s a big deal. Any stoppage to production in a steel rolling mill can cost many thousands of pounds a minute. You don’t want to spend any time at all recalibrating a measurement system if you can avoid it.
Imagine my surprise when, on more than one occasion, I ran into opposition from customers who said ‘but all of your competitor’s systems need to be recalibrated regularly. Either there is something wrong with yours or you are lying to us’.
My competitors had taken the time to understand what I was offering and then used it to their advantage, even though it wasn’t really an advantage to the customer. He would rather have the expense and time waste of a recalibration cycle than believe something so radical as a system calibrated for life. I don’t mind admitting that my competitors did a good job!
Was it a demotivating distraction? Well, it was certainly demotivating to have the rug pulled out from under my feet.
However, it taught me that if you don’t track your competitors, you run the risk of market share disappearing without you understanding why.
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