Wouldn’t it be great if you could live in a world where you didn’t have any competition? Where you ran your business and made money hand over fist, slept great at night, and enjoyed long holidays and weekends?
But life’s just not that way, is it? And if you are in business long enough, at some point your competition will eat your lunch and make life miserable for you.
Maybe they’ll take market share, customers or profit—or all of the above. Whatever it is they will be after, it will be driving you nuts, and you will want to do something about it right away.
In my ten plus years as an entrepreneur, I’ve had my fair share of competition. So I want to share with you what I learned to do in order to turn the tables, so that I’m taking market share, customers and profits from my competition…and not the other way around.
1. Personalize your message
Beating your competition often requires that you stand out from the crowd. That’s exactly what the folks at Campaign Monitor did when they were looking to hire new designers for their company. They wanted to find superior designers. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to find them through the conventional means like job boards because they typically are not looking for work.
So how did they attract these kinds of designers and get them before their competition? Well, they changed their normal promotional tactics. They switched their usual promotions on ad networks like Fusion and Dribble to focus on designers and drive them to the hiring landing page.
In less than 24 hours, the page received over 20,000 visitors—and that number doubled by the end of the week. In addition, their site got over 900 Twitter mentions, which alone drove nearly 5,000 visitors.
On top of that, their site was picked up by some popular design-related blogs, design galleries, and high-profile designers. In all, over 50,000 people visited that site—and the company ended up landing two very talented designers.
2. Solve meaningful customer problems
Your competition may be eating your lunch because they are giving customers in the market solutions to meaningful problems.
You will never survive if you are not delivering solutions that solve real world problems. The Segway flopped because it didn’t serve a useful purpose. It was simply a super expensive fad where cheaper alternatives existed.
Do you know anyone who actually owns one of these?
A good example of someone solving real problems was Tony Maglica. He designed a high-beam, heavy-duty flashlight for a segment of the population that desperately needed a reliable and powerful flashlight. That was in 1979, and the population that needed the tool was police officers.
The Mag-Lite: A cost effective solution for a very specific and desperate customer
Maglica’s flashlight was a solution that his customers (police officers) desperately needed. Now they are standard issue for officers, and the Maglite manufacturer is a world-renowned and profitable company because its founder solved a meaningful problem.
3. Know your customers inside and out
But before you can solve your customers’ problems—you have to know what they are. Obviously, your competition does.
With a little time and money, you can find and collect information about your customers using these methods:
- Create a MVP – MVP stands for “minimum viable product,” and it simply refers to a process that helps you discover if there is a market for your product. The MVP doesn’t even have to be a real product—it could be a concept video like Google’s Project Glass.
- Design a viral opinion poll – Traditional survey tools like Qualaroo or Survey Monkey can give you feedback on who your customers are, but your sample may be small. If you want to reach out beyond the borders of who you know and test the boundaries of your market, use a survey tool like Urtak that can make your poll go viral.
- Run the 5-second rule – Sometimes tapping into your customers’ brains can be done by building a couple of wire frames of your website and then getting some users to try it. You can actually do this for free over at fivesecondtest.com.
4. Differentiate from your competition
Another reason one company usually dominates and another lags behind is because the laggard has not done a good job of showing why they are different from the competitor. In other words, they look like the copycat.
If you want to pull out from under the shadow of your competitor, you need to figure out why you are unique—and then tell your customers.
There are usually three ways to do that:
- Know your core values – What values drive your company? For Apple, their core values are to challenge conventional thinking and design beautiful products. They start with the why they do what they do, not what they do.
- Innovate – Never allow your product to get stale or old. You may be in love with it, but is anyone else? Continue to aggressively update your products and even create products that will make your best products obsolete. This is how great companies do it, and it’s why you see a lot of the same names in the news all the time. Companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google are constantly upping the ante.
- Get Feedback – Whether your product has been on the market for two years or you are two weeks from releasing it, get feedback from potential users. Ask them to compare it to competing products.
5. Listen to your customers
As Bianca Male pointed out in 8 ways to listen to your customers, it’s all about reaching out. And that reaching out—and the insights you can gain from listening to customers—can change your business from one that is run of the mill to one that is a real powerhouse.
So how should you go about asking for feedback? Here are some tools to help you:
- Surveys – Perhaps the simplest way to get feedback from customers, subscribers or prospects is to use survey tools like Survey Monkey and Qualaroo. These tools are easy to set up, roll out and track feedback.
- Focus groups – Focus groups take surveys a step further. Where surveys are quantitative, focus groups allow you to hear qualitative feedback. In other words, you get to hear how customers performed a particular action—and why.
- Customer Panels – Customer panels take focus groups a step further. You are now in the room with your customers, and it’s your job to gather customer intelligence through questions and interaction.
- Observation – You can watch your customers’ buying habits by paying attention to what they do. Online you can review your analytics to determine where they are coming from and where they are bouncing out.
- Point of sale – Build feedback systems right into the buying process. Online this means asking questions via radio boxes and forms. Offline this is where your employees can interact with the customer. Train your employees to gather information from customers at every point of the sale.
- Customer service – Even after the sale, you should train your employees to listen to your customers. Listen right on the front line and engage in one-on-one conversations with customers.
- Social Media – Social media is about building strong relationships with customers. But that’s not all. A lot of companies, like Comcast, are using social media to respond to customer complaints. Use social media to listen to your customers.
- Communities – Create communities of customers through forums and email newsletters. Dell has done an outstanding job of building a forum where customers help customers. Even though this might be a hands-off approach for them, they don’t neglect the chance to listen to the conversation so they can solve problems before they even reach the customer.
- Contact forms – Of course, a customer should always have the opportunity to call or email you at any time. Make your contact information visible on your website and brick-and-mortar store. And if you get a customer on the phone, ask them their opinion. They’ll love to give it.
You are always going to have competition. You will never get away from it. But that’s healthy because competition can spur you to work harder, whether you are number one or number two.
If you are number two or lower, then that will drive you to become number one. And if you are number one, the competition below you (snapping at your heels) will drive you to work harder to stay number one. Competition will keep you from becoming mediocre.
What methods have you used to improve the situation with your competition?