Don’t Fight The Competition!

“Don’t fight the competition! ” I may regret saying this one-day, but hear me out. Competition keeps you successful and can lower your rate of failure. They are actually a critical part of your marketing ecosystem. Pay attention to them, but don’t let them steer your business.

In a recent client strategy and balanced scorecard workshop the client started to talk about how the competition was coming into the territory. The energy in the room increased significantly as they talked about the competitor and how they were starting to eat away at work or at least put high risk on the current and future customer base. I asked them if the purpose of their strategy was to beat the competition or to serve the customers. This led to an “Ah-ha” moment. They realized that they become obsessed with the competition. They had become diverted in their thinking about their strategy from focusing on meeting the needs of the customer to focusing on beating the competition.

If you let the competition set the agenda, you’re doomed to follow and never lead in your market.

What then is the role of competition in the execution of your strategy? Competitors are the “canary in the coal mine” of strategy execution. You should watch them closely. The early warning signals the strategy is not being completely successful in delivering your desired results. The competitors are as driven as you are to meet the customer needs. They are like flashlights, searching in the dark, showing you areas of customer needs that you are not being the most effective at the meeting, or that you may not have seen. If competitors illuminate customer needs that you have targeted, then they have provided you with market Intel on the effectiveness of your strategy. A customer focused initiative may be required to strengthen your strategy execution. However, if the competition is meeting customer needs outside your current strategy, the intel should simply be noted for consideration in your annual strategic planning and strategy review. There is likely no current response needed other than to reaffirm with your customers that you are truly meeting their high priority needs, and if so, stay the course.

Think about this: if you design your strategy to meet selected customer needs, you leave the other customer needs open to the competition. If you selected a strategy of meeting customer needs where you can excel (SWOT) the other customer needs that are left for competitors to fill are not in your “sweet spot”. In fact, a smart competitor will see those needs and will take their strengths and meet them … taking the path of least resistance, focusing where they can excel, and staying off your identified and targeted market. Remember, you can’t do it all. Do what you do best and leave the rest of the competitors. (I might wonder here if you would really call them competitors since you’re actually beating complementary customer needs.)

So how do you keep your organization from fighting the competition?

  • Know your strategy and execute it well.
  • Identify your targeted market – the customers you want to serve and the needs that you willmeet. In this action you’ll consider your internal strengths and the external environment
  • Identify which of the customer needs you will meet – consider your own capabilities in the areasof: product, costs, and service.
  • Align the organization with a clear strategy to meet those needs – clarifying and communicatethe strategy and put metrics in place that proactively measure/manage your effectiveness andexecuting the strategy (e.g. balanced scorecard)
  • Execute, evaluate, and continue focused execution of the strategy.

I am reminded of the old joke about the two hikers who encountered an angry bear. The bear started chasing them. One of the hikers stopped to re-tie his sneakers. The other hiker asked “why are you tying your sneakers? You know you can’t out run a bear”. The first hiker responded, “I don’t have to out run the bear, I just have to run faster than you”.

So keep an eye on the competitors – they will let you know if you’re moving fast enough. But don’t let them set your strategy or agenda.

Remember, it’s all about the customer, not the competition.