“Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people.”
― David Sarnoff
This post is on competing.
Competing against other companies in the business world.
Competing either in terms of positioning or actually competing directly against them for customers and prospects.
Let me begin with some honesty.
I hate competing on low price.
I believe it is lazy business.
And it is lazy thinking.
And it is lazy logic.
In addition … only one company, or brand, can actually be a low cost provider in an industry.
That said … let me immediately address the traditional concept of competition.
Price competition is not what competition is about.
While we may talk price … in the end … people will pay what they will pay for what they want.
If you take a deep breath … and assume quality competition and efforts in the marketing & sales process matter … well … the price variable gets evicted from its dominant position in discussions.
Let me take it a step farther.
It seems like when we view competition, and competing, in a traditional discussion it seems to exist within a rigid pattern of the invariant stable <not stagnant> conditions.
We always seem to view it as, or on, a flat grid with stable dots and competitor names and quadrants and such. Therefore when you think traditionally you are looking at … well … little things that remain relatively stable.
And on that grid distinction between the dots come down to some nuts & bolts things that are often nuances.
Now … let me say … they are important … as long as you stay on this flat 2 dimensional grid and want to remain stable.
But reality is the true competition comes from the new view, the new outlook, the new technology, the new source of supply, the new type of organization … the new idea <or new way of thinking>.
Viewing competition in this way means you get to command a decisive cost or gain some quality advantage. Both of those thoughts do not which infringe on the edges of the profits and the outputs of the existing firms … but attack profits and outputs at their foundations and their very lives.
There isn’t one to be found.
It shouldn’t worry you.
Business <as in Life> is neither static nor unilateral. Nor does it live on some grid and in quadrants. Nor are most industries stable <for long>.
Your competition is also thinking and moving and often it is the competitor’s move that provides the opportunity.
But we far too often try and force an opportunity.
How often does someone enthusiastically suggest … “Take the bull by the horns and create opportunity!”
<exclamation point include>
Typically it is stated with false enthusiasm driven by fear because when viewing the flat grid and quadrants things can look fairly hopeless and a huge sea of sameness.
Identifying REAL opportunities or ideas is difficult.
A really smart guy named Jean Marie Dru drew up the idea of ‘disruption.’
He discussed the concept that REAL opportunity and big ideas needed to fall into the ‘disruption category’ or they weren’t … well … real opportunities or big ideas.
The trouble with the disruption concept isn’t the concept itself <because it is spectacular> but rather in the environment in which the concept is implemented, ie., today’s business environment. Delineating between a real disruptive idea and a politically motivated, and called, false disruptive idea is difficult.
It’s not really that difficult to discern but rather maybe just difficult to admit or publicly state.
We are so desperate for ‘the big idea’ or ‘big change’ that we don’t hesitate to call little ideas and little change … big.
Because we don’t have anything else.
Business today demands something … or else.
So we make somethings … even when there is really nothings <or just a bunch of ‘littles’>.
That makes being truly competitive, or being good in competition, really difficult. For if we not only dwell on the often indiscernible nuance but also deign to call the nuance, the little, big … we are fooling ourselves into believing that we are competing … and worse … competing well.
We end up forcing opportunity where none really exists.
Lots of wasted misdirected energy.
What this all really translates into is that in most of those cases we are creating ‘opportunity’ with a little thing. Therefore <sorry to burst everyone’s bubble> it isn’t really an opportunity.
If you are honest with yourself most of these identified ‘opportunities’ simply keep you competitive … not really an ‘disruptive opportunity.’
I don’t say that to suggest not doing those things but rather to suggest you simply call it what it is.
Simply remaining on the 2 dimensional competitive grid. Staying stable.
Look <part 1>.
You have to do those things … but cannot only do those things.
Because far too often we die not from taking risks but rather from staying safe … as the trap closes in on us we wait until it is too late to find a way out.
Look <part 2>.
Getting trapped is part of business <albeit we gnash our teeth and fire a shitload of people when it happens> but like all traps the way out is never back the way you came.
Once in the trap you can really only get out by going through the trap.
What helps you stay the course on that idea … is that it is an act and react world.
Any time competing for business is on a time continuum <i.e., it takes time> there are multiple variables which can affect the outcome … being impacted by multiple variables <called multiple participants> … being impacted by multiple environmental variables … all of which can … and do their darndest … to change the very solid ground you were standing on just a minute ago … to mud.
Competing in business is … well … maybe a formula of ‘do’s and don’ts’… but a unique formula every time in that while there may be larger basic ‘to do’s’ <like make sure you maintain contact> winning is often in the sometimes random nuance in the formula. A nuance that can often be frighteningly elusive <until afterwards when a business tends to look back and go “wow, that was it … we need to make sure we do that every time’ … which is inevitably the kiss of death to the next win and that nuance>.
“Today’s competitiveness, so much imposed from without, is exhausting, not exhilarating; is unending-a part of one’s social life, one’s solitude, one’s sleep, one’s sleeplessness.”
This means there is an ever-present threat <not to sound paranoid>.
But this also means there is an ever-present opportunity.
But this ever present threat means you have to be disciplined.
Disciplined on the small things <which keep you in the competition> and the big things <which give you the win>.
Having been in the business world for far too many years I have seen the best and the worst of how companies have faced competition.
I have seen those who take no risks <and been killed> and those who took big risks <and been killed>.
In the end I imagine it is balancing a lot of disciplined little things <let’s call them jabs> and disciplined big thing behavior <let’s call this ‘the knock out blow’>. Many of these things are not ‘opportunities’ as such … but they put you in a position to take advantage of opportunities.
And while the following list is driven from the marketing, PR, advertising world … there are a bunch of simple thoughts relevant to anyone with regard to competition <please note … I am not smart enough to have come up with his list on my own … I have compiled this from material I have seen & used in the past … and incorporated some of my thoughts>:
- Winning business is hard and getting the chance to win some business is really hard.
But if you don’t get into the competition there are no odds.
That’s why you are always mining … or prospecting. This activity is essential. My point is that nowhere in what I just wrote is there an implied ‘rest’ or ‘relax.’ You have to always be working to get a chance to win … heck … you always have to be working to even get in the consideration game.
Anyone who suggests winning is easy … or that a win streak <or positive sales> is in any way not inextricably linked to a shitload of hard work they are lying. I imagine my real point is that far too often I hear something like ‘they make it look easy.’ The only reason it looks easy is because you don’t get to see the 90% hard work … only the 10% that looks easy because of the hard work.
- Stop worrying about what you can’t control.
Companies decide to look for help for all kinds of reasons . . . new products, new CMO, new C level anything, a dip in sales, complaints from the trade/consumer/employees, etc.
Consumers decide to look for something to spend their money on for as many irrational reasons as you can find rational reasons.
Some, and none, of those reasons are in your control.
What is in your control is the ability to be top-of-mind when decision change/factors occur.
Let me revise that … if you are good … REALLY good … you can plan your own obsoletion <making your own product or service obsolete> and replace yourself.
You have to be REALLY <really> good.
- They have to know you to pick you.
Unknown companies and products/services don’t get considered. That’s why out-bound communication is essential.
I type this just to address the infamous ‘this is such a great idea that it will sell itself.’
Life just isn’t that easy.
Awareness alone isn’t enough, it has to be relevant awareness otherwise you’re just generic <and then you better actually be the lowest price every day no ifs, ands or buts>. You need to position your company, your brand, your whatever … in people’s minds as relevant to whatever topic or issue that will inevitably lead to them buying or engaging you.
And you actually have live up to what you say you are relevant about.
- Finding prospects is all about numbers.
<this is an equally important statement if you are referring to B2B or to consumer>
At any given moment, there are a number of people or companies who’d love to hire you or go on a date with you right now … but they don’t know you and you don’t know them.
That’s why communicating with lots of prospects simultaneously <and continuously> is critical.
- Use your head to pick targets.
Start with your company’s current/past experience and your key people experience as the primary criteria. It’s always easier to sell yourselves when you have category credibility.
But also use your heart. Pick some companies you just want to be with.
Forget whether it makes sense on these. If you want them badly enough you’ll come up with ideas to get their attention.
- Mining and prospecting is like dating.
Prospecting isn’t really about getting the business. It’s actually about building a relationship so you can be considered for a relationship <for the business>. It requires a slow, respectful and continuous approach as you develop a … well … relationship.
There is no reason why experts should feel the need to toss around ‘build trust’ or ‘be interesting’ or … well … be anything … because this is simple <and as complex> as building a good relationship in everyday Life. Don’t over complicate … just go about building a relationship the way you would when you are out of the office.
Here is the difficult part you need to wrap your head around.
The majority of those you introduce yourself to will most likely like you … but not enough to date you. It can drive you nuts <because you always want to know why someone doesn’t want to go out on a date with you … even though they do not hesitate to say they like you>.
And some may not go out on a date with you for years.
Dating in business, just as in Life, is about impatient patience. Impatiently seeking dates but patiently waiting for the timing to be right.
- Be true to thineself.
A trust that tomorrow you will be, and act, like you did yesterday … and today.
So maybe relationships are really built on consistency.
Be who you are. Tell them who you are. Act like who you are. You don’t want to end up in a relationship where you cannot be yourself
<I have written on this topic for business several times including this:
As a corollary to this … you are how you prospect.
Don’t do things because they are ‘cool’ or industry hot topics … do things because they are an extension of who you are and how you think.
Be consistent with your company positioning & character.
“We are all manufacturers-making good, making trouble or making excuses.”
- HV Adolt
- Your web site is your personality & character … not a brochure.
For example … in the advertising agency business … many agency web sites are impersonal, out-of-date, electronic brochures with obnoxious splashy technologically cool things <but vapid and say nothing> up front. That’s an issue because research shows that 100% of businesses check out the web sites of 100% of the companies they may consider to work with.
Your web site should be an extension of the personalities of the key leaders running the place and the business personality & culture.
This is the same with everyone.
If you have a website it ain’t just about ‘products & services offered.’ They want to meet … well … you. Why? Because those perceptions are embedded into whatever they end up buying.
- Everything always needs to be relevant to them.
There is no such thing as ‘just a credentials presentation.’
Everything you say, and everything you show, should be in linked to them. About them or the benefit to them.
Never show what you have done, no matter how brilliant it is, unless you can directly relate it to their business <and never assume they will understand how it relates unless it’s super obvious>.
In the business world they are seeking help because will be there was a business problem <because if business is good they can be quite forgiving to an existing ‘helper’>.
In the consumer world they are seeking help because they perceive they have a need <I need new clothes to look better, I need a new appliance because the old one is shit, I need new food because I am hungry, etc.>.
Before you say or show anything always ask why it is relevant to them.
- Frequency and Recency.
Almost nothing is ever won with a single contact.
That’s why prospecting requires frequent communications over time for them to get to know you.
Unfortunately … it is also true that recency wins the day.
Therefore you need to think in terms of communicating not just once or twice but dozens of times to accomplish your goal … just aim as carefully as you can.
Unfortunately … this also means that every impression counts. So you cannot think ‘the most important impression is the first impression.’ Every impression counts.
Unfortunately … this also means that one message at the right time is always more valuable than <pick a number more than 1 and insert it here> messages at the wrong time.
You can never be sure when your communications and their peaked interest will intersect. So, the challenge is always you have to think in terms of communicating not just for a few weeks or months, but… well … forever.
And forever means never forgetting that right time, right place messaging with a relevant message is always the goal.
- Focus on responders, not rejecters.
Most of the people you approach will ignore you or reject you. Concentrate on nurturing those that do respond. With ongoing rejecters <you still want to work with> recency becomes the strategy. Rejecters become responders if you find the right place and the right time with the relevant message.
- Be quotable <and where it matters>.
Being an influencer, or influential, matters. Become an expert. The one who is always quoted wherever the decision-makers or potential customers read or watch.
If you are worth even half a shit you have thoughts & ideas on how things should be done. Your thoughts & ideas are just as valuable as some bonehead who maybe published a book.
Sometimes the only difference between your quote and their quote is that they wrote a book.
So, yes, being quotable means you have to have the right attitude. Writing a book may be a big deal … but you have to believe your own ideas & thinking is a big deal too … and say ‘so what if they wrote a book’ and get going.
As a corollary … make sure you address real issues, business issues and personal <Maslow stuff> issues depending on audience, and not just what they may specifically believe is their ‘problem assignment.’
Sometimes projects are the product of the whole team or household.
Sometimes they’re not.
It’s always safe to focus on issues, even if they’re outside the outlined problem because it shows you understand them and their lives.
By the way … this is relevant to consumers and businesses.
That said, make sure you respond to the specific project outlined.
- Questions and respect.
Smart questions can often have more impact than smart answers. Asking insightful questions makes you look intelligent and they inevitably feel respected. In addition … frankly … they often know more than you do <sometimes you just have to figure out the right questions to get the good stuff out of them>.
Anyway. You want to be smart … and you may actually be smart … but giving fast answers, even smart good ones, can sometimes make you look like you’re just showing off and, worse, make them feel inferior.
Just be respectful and aim your response to create dialogue rather than simply seek to make a statement.
In fact, you should try to have the whole process structured to solicit response from the prospects throughout.
In the end … if you have no dialogue you will have no win.
If you find yourself in a monologue, you have not won.
And competition is never about hind sight.
And opportunities exist everywhere … it is just that some are opportunities to stay in the game and some are to win the game.
I won’t suggest little things don’t matter … because they can.
I will suggest little things simply keep you in the competition.
In the game.
They will not give you win.
It’s the big stuff.
The disruptive stuff that beats competition.
Doesn’t beat them.
It just puts you where they are not.
I think that equals winning.