Competitors Don’t Keep You from Success

In an ideal world for many companies, there would be minimal competition. Or none. But customers want the choices and improvements that competition provides.
Seena Sharp’s new book, "Competitive Intelligence Advantage," devotes an entire chapter, “Why Fixating on Competitors is Misguided,” to explaining what should be obvious, but isn’t--that customers buy from companies that offer them what they want. Put the lens on the customer, rather than on the competitor, Sharp says, and you’re far more likely to get the results your company expects. She goes on to explain:

"Companies that focus on competitors tend to offer more of the same, rather than differentiate. While the company insists its products are different, it often is the only one that recognizes that difference--while the customer remains oblivious to those differences, or the differences don’t matter.

Why is this an issue? Far too many executives are convinced they know better than the customer. And when the customer doesn’t agree and doesn’t buy their offering, they blame the competition. This red flag blares the disconnect between the company’s perception and the market’s reality.
So, how do you learn what customers want? Through Competitive intelligence (CI)--both formal and informal methods. CI is an organized methodology for finding out what a company needs to know when making a decision and for keeping up with the market and customers. This due diligence uncovers opportunities, potential threats, surprises, insights, and is a direct path to growing your company.

Informal methods may be the first sign of customers’ constantly changing desires. Customers reveal the changes that are important to them--if you pay attention. Ask them. Listen to them. Watch them. They often can’t verbalize what they want (unless it’s the ever-present wish for better customer service), but they will reveal it in other ways. Extract this valuable information from those closest to your customers: employees and outsiders in delivery, sales, repair, and customer service.
Don’t ignore competitors, but remember, they are not the ones who buy your product or service. Business is not a zero-sum game in which one company wins and the other company loses; there can be many successful companies in the same business.

Invest the time to learn what customers want and focus on them. Competitive intelligence provides immediate and powerful insight into the ever-changing marketplace."

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