Would you know what to do if you were attacked by a swarm of killer
bees? "Run!" you say, and you would be right; sort of.
You must not only run, but you must run in a zigzag pattern.
What if it were a mountain lion? Stand your ground, and make yourself
appear as big as possible by holding out your arms and, if wearing a coat,
opening it so it makes you look even larger. Mountain lions respect size
and probably won’t attack if they think you are bigger than they are.
What about a bear? Play dead. Bears lose interest if you don’t fight.
What’s the lesson here?
Know your enemy and exploit their weaknesses.
Let’s think about that in terms of our businesses. If we know our
competition (the ‘enemy’ in this analogy) and we know their
weaknesses, we can exploit them to come out on top. For example, speed has
always been an issue in the shipping business. UPS has always been very
efficient, but sometimes we need to get documents delivered overnight. UPS
wasn’t setup to do that. Enter Federal Express. They found a weakness in
the system (speed of delivery) and capitalized on it, offering overnight
delivery no matter what. Their advertising slogan is a classic: "When
it absolutely positively has to be there overnight."
In the first example, an entire business (Federal Express) was built
around a weakness. But what if we have an existing business that has a
head-to-head competitor? The better you know your competition, the easier
it is for you to be of service to your customer. Without being pushy, you
can ask a prospective customer who else he is considering to do business
with. If you know all of his options better than he does, you can easily
explain why you are the better choice.
"You are considering Acme to refinish your furniture? They are an
excellent choice but they tend to use a lower quality varnish than we do
and, although their results are excellent, we have found that our results
are equal to theirs and the finish lasts longer."
The first step, then, is to identify your competition. It may not
always be as obvious as you think. A movie theater, for example, competes
with other theaters as well as with other forms of entertainment. After
all, people who want to be entertained have many different choices besides
seeing a movie. Another example: a gift basket business has to compete
with other basket makers as well as other forms of gifts.
After the competitors have been identified, you must become familiar
with what they do and how they do it, comparing your business to theirs
and why someone would want your product or service over theirs. I would be
surprised to find a successful auto salesman (key word being
"successful") who doesn’t know just as much about competing
vehicles as he does about his own. That way, he can ask what else his
prospect is considering and discuss his products with their weaknesses in
mind. And, at the same time, he appears to his customer to be
knowledgeable, dependable, and helpful!
Know your competition. It’s the best way to be the best.