What’s your competitive edge?

SmartCompany /

Competitive edge is like a knife edge – you need to hone it to keep that edge sharp.


Sue Barrett

How many of us have been in business for a while and things have been going along smoothly, sales coming in, customers are happy. Then you notice that you are not winning the business you used to win.


In fact, you notice some of your customers are using new players in the market place when they once used you, or they are not doing anything at all. You follow up and find out that your clients are keen to work with the new players because they bring something different, new or unusual. Or they are distracted by other things.


Initially, you may take it as a personal rejection – “they don’t like me”. Then you stop the self-wallowing and realise that: 

  • a. You missed out on a new trend or a new idea that was gaining momentum in your market, so your approach is not up-to-date or relevant any more.
  • b. You have not kept pace with changes in your market. Your business is at risk of becoming obsolete. You are losing your competitive edge.


With the commoditisation of many products and processes, the business landscape can change over night and you can lose your edge. What was once a high value, premium or customised product or service can be reduce to a “me2” very quickly, or become obsolete.


I have been reading a great book called A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, which talks about what can and can’t be replicated easily. He focuses on, among other things:

Abundance, Asia & Automation


He talks about how we now live in a world turned upside down by rising affluence, the outsourcing of “good jobs” overseas and the computerisation of our lives. He focuses on a world fast shifting from the information age to the conceptual age.


This got me thinking about how we now need to regularly look at our markets and especially our competition and what they are up to. Often the old SWOT is done (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) where the original business plan is put together and then repeated once a year if you’re lucky.


Given the rate of change, new innovations and ideas in the market, how often do we need to assess our competitors and our competitive edge? I am not sure, but all I know is that once a year is not enough these days. There is so much competition out there competing for people’s time, attention and money, it’s hard to keep up. As a sales person we need to know our competitive edge – why we are better than the competition.


And if we have been around long enough we know that competition isn’t just our direct competitors either; it can be anyone. Your competitors can include:


  • Current competition.
  • Peripheral competition.
  • Emerging competition.


In the type of business I am in (consulting, assessment and training) my competition can vary and can also include internal company HR or Learning & Development departments.


However, it can also be the economy, an election, wars, droughts, etc. While I would love to be, and perhaps should be, an essential service provider for any business (we all need to be effective at sales and service), in reality my business is not perceived that way by companies. If things get tough or people get distracted, customers can lose sight of what may be important to them and not invest their money and time in your offering, even though they should.


Being market aware, community aware and world aware is part of our competitor analysis these days. Rather than sit back and think it is all too hard, I have found that regularly reviewing where you are at in relation to everyone else in your space and checking the broader market is a good idea.


This doesn’t mean you have to resort to investing in major market research campaigns. In reality, if you are mindful, you are really researching every day – the information is often right in front of you. Here are some ways I have found useful in keeping up-to-date with the competition.



The internet is a powerful tool for finding information on a variety of topics.


Personal visits

If possible, visit your competitors’ locations. Observe how employees interact with customers. What do their premises look like? How are their products displayed and priced?


Talk to customers

Take careful note of what your customers and prospects are saying about your competitors.


Competitors’ ads / websites/ etc,

Analyse competitors’ ads, websites, marketing material, etc. to learn about their target audience, market position, product features, benefits, prices, etc.


Speeches/ presentations

Attend speeches or presentations made by representatives of your competitors.


Trade show displays

View your competitor’s display from a potential customer’s point of view. What does their display say about the company? Observing which specific trade shows or industry events competitors attend provides information on their marketing strategy and target market.


Written sources:

  • General business publications
  • Marketing and advertising publications
  • Local newspapers and business journals
  • Industry and trade association publications
  • Industry research and surveys




Understanding your competitors is an integral part of your sales planning process. By investing the time in researching your competitors you will be able to:


  1. Understand your competitor’s advantages and disadvantages relative to your own position.
  2. Highlight key areas of focus based on your position within the market compared to competitors.
  3. Provide an informed basis to develop strategies to achieve competitive advantage in the future.
  4. Be prepared to handle questions or challenges posed by potential customers in relation to competitors.


Ask yourself regularly:


  • Who are the key competitors in your market place?
  • What is a profile of each of your key competitors (market position, size, distribution, reputation)?
  • What are your competitors’ primary objectives (to be number one in market, rapid increase market share, to specialise in a particular segment of the market)?
  • What do they do well?
  • What don’t they do well?
  • What threats do your competitors pose?
  • What is your primary competitive advantage over them?


An important note: By reading outside your area of specialisation you can learn a lot about other markets and ways of doing business that might just translate into a competitive edge for you. Remember the old saying: “A mind is like a parachute – it only works when it is open”. So be open to new ideas and change. It’s an essential life skill.




Sue Barrett is Managing Director of BARRETT Pty Ltd. Sue is an experienced consultant and trained coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating High Performing Sales Teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. For more information please go to


For more Sell Like  a Woman blogs, click here.



SmartCompany is the leading online publication in Australia for free news, information and resources catering to Australia’s entrepreneurs, small and medium business owners and business managers.

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