Sometimes, I think that businesses have the wrong attitude towards competition and the “competitive landscape”. I’m a very competitive person, but I don’t care about my competition – not in the way other companies seem to obsess about theirs. Perhaps it is where they see themselves and their attitude towards business strategy.
Leader or Pack
I want to be in front or in the top of any list (did I mention that I was competitive?). You are not going to achieve any sort of leadership status by doing whatever your competition does. This is the road to ruin in fact. Constantly battling to keep up with your competition will root you firmly in the middle of your industry – with nothing going for you. Your goal should be the company, product or service that others strive to imitate and not the other way round.
You should obsess about your customers and not your competition. Obsess about how you can provide better levels of service, better features, better products and not just the same features, services or products that your competitors offer. Seek “blue oceans”.
You should keep an eye on your competitors, but just one. You need to know where they are and what they are doing and for how much. But you don’t want to be them. You want to get ahead and stay ahead.
If you focus too much on your competitors, your value curve will start to resemble theirs. There is nothing that separates you and you will forever be competing on price.
For me, focus and differentiation are two of the most important elements of a solid business strategy. Naturally, it’s ok to be watching your competitors to see where you should be different. After all, its important to understand what you are up against and be able to create “battle cards” for each competitor for your sales team. But look for gaps and not necessarily similarities.
I like to look at the industry at large – at the aggregate level – and also other seemingly unrelated industries to help identify better ways to differentiate. This is how you can break out from the pack.
Learn to look for innovation everywhere and try and see how you could adapt it to fit your own business. Read blogs on a wide range of topics, read two books at once (alternating of course) – a non-fiction and a fiction, look at the winners of business awards to see what was so special. But start to differentiate, not imitate.
It is incredibly satisfying to be friendly with your competition. It’s only business after all. Never underestimate the amount of useful information you can all get by sharing ideas, networking and swapping war stories. Obviously keep the company’s IPR locked away, but there’s still plenty to talk about and it makes the whole experience of competing far more fun.
Pick one but no more than two competitors to be your “sworn enemy”. If you want to create a unifying experience with your staff, partners, and customers – then identifying a company as your opposite acts as a powerful rallying cry. Look at Apple vs Microsoft for example. This should be “healthy competition” of course.
You need to be a winner and it becomes difficult to measure when you are competing against dozens or hundreds. But if you isolate one, then it becomes far more real and far more powerful.
So stop sweating the competition – who cares about them? Differentiate and get out in front. Find a nemesis and make it personal – but in a healthy way of course. After all, it’s just business – right?
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