Get up close and personal with your competitors. Don’t be scared: they won’t bite. Hmm, some might, so proceed carefully.
Sales is a contact sport, and when it comes to competitors it should be full body contact! Most markets are saturated with competitors manoeuvring themselves in their most attractive guises to lure the affection of would-be customers.
Competition serves the collective as merchants are kept on their toes. Customers are able to select a provider that best meets their needs or desires. Many businesspeople underestimate their competitors – pretending they don’t exist or that what they do is somehow irrelevant or inferior in comparison. Don’t make that mistake.
By default, we often frame our competitors as the enemy. We have never met them, and don’t have the desire to. If they’re flying a flag with a different brand, they spell evil! This belief is not only ignorant, it’s also limiting and ultimately self-defeating. Call me mad, but I recommend meeting with competitors periodically. Who needs a private detective when we have social media?!
You can take it one step further and invite them for coffee or chat over the phone. Learn what they are up to. How do they communicate and what do they really stand for? What’s their story and where are they headed? Are they arrogant and aloof, or polished or coarse? This is important information to know. Here’s why: if you know what’s really beneath your competitor’s façade, it helps you understand how to position yourself in either a contrasting or more meaningful light.
Here’s how we understand the competition. Your competitors commonly fall into three distinct categories:
1. Closed and aggressive
2. Passive and indifferent
3. Open and collaborative
Misguided by tradition, we can be guilty of herding all competitors into category 1. Competitors in this class generally come from a place of fear and scarcity, and many are overtly self-righteous. You will be able to establish this when you make contact and receive no response or a negative retort. Leave these competitors to fester in their own ignorance, or hunt and destroy them – it’s up to you.
If you are willing to make the effort and initiate contact with competitors, you will find that most fall into category 2. These people are somewhat short-sighted, but they are rarely sinister. They are not competitors to think too much about or deal with strategically. Safely share your innermost secrets with them: they won’t use them against you. They are frequently content and quite happy where they are in the pecking order.
Category 3 is not only a characterisation, it’s a way of being. Usually competitors in this group have realised there is enough for everyone. They also know how competition serves them and their customers. My own research over the past 15 years reveals that less than 10% of companies fall into this category. Most of the others aren’t capable of understanding how collaborating and sharing knowledge with a perceived enemy can serve them and others.
Doctors and medical specialists are skilled proponents of this approach. They don’t take on a procedure if it’s not their expertise and habitually refer patients to someone more qualified. What’s more, they regularly seek expert counsel from other specialists. Their resolve is to always create the right outcome for the patient. People’s health and lives are at stake. What a powerful way of operating. Aren’t your customers that important? If not, they should be.
I recommend regularly making contact with competitors, and when appropriate refer business to them. I have learned some interesting things from some of them, and from others, I have learned what not to do. Establishing connections with competitors in different markets or geographic regions you’re not active in also enables you to cross-pollinate best practice and leverage intellectual property; ultimately this mutually enhances knowledge and capability and serves the best interests of customers. Happy hunting!
Check out Trent’s latest video blog here.