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"Killer Bees"

by Dave Balch, "The Stay-at-Home CEO"™

(c) 2002, A Few Good People, Inc.

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. ("Probably!")

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.


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