Who must be your biggest competitor?

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"Scour the competition," typical marketing books tell us.

"Find out what they know, their weaknesses, their strengths, their goals, their customers, their unique selling proposition, yadda, yadda, yadda." What do we think of the philosophy?


Two lethal words: Michael Jordan.

Sure Dr. J and others may have inspired Jordan during his early years; but who was Jordan's biggest competition? Himself.

Companies that build incredible profits rarely use the competition as a tool to generate more profits.

Instead, they focus on beating the ^@!% out of themselves. "But why should I focus on beating myself?" you may be asking.

Four sweet tips for ya:

  1. You strengthen your strengths.

    You do what you know. You do what you enjoy. And, you improve the freak-out-of-whatever you love doing. Your business cycles don't depend on what outsiders are doing. Most of the time, they drive you to do things beyond your specialties -- reducing your profits like MC Hammer in the 90s. Just look at the computer industry's "What-do-we-do-now?" mentality three years ago: As computers began to commoditize, Gateway, Dell, Alienware -- to name a few -- started selling what its computer competitors (for some weird reason) were doing: Selling TVs.

    TVs! Television. The tube. Blahhhhh!

    That race didn't go too well. The competition forces you to do things beyond your strengths and capabilities. Instead, start beating yourself. You'll soon augment your strengths that provide greater value to your customers.
  2. You dramatically improve your business operations.

    When you focus on beating yourself, you improve what most companies overlook: customer response times, employee morale, scratch-to-launch time, daily productivity, the "little" things, etc. If neighborhood Johnny K's Store just opened across the street with spankin' Neon lights -- that won't distract you from strengthening your company's foundation. It's those "basics" that mean much more to your bottom line than any one sweet competitor's innovation ever, ever will.
  3. You start adding value to customers' lives.

    It's the whole Cold War mentality that we're so used to out of typical companies: "Let's add on the features recklessly, and we'll win" -- with total disregard for the customers' needs. If you're seeking to beat the competition, that flawed perspective drives you to "one-up" the customer.
    1. Vacuum-4-You: "They have two brushes to their vacuums? Let's add five!"
    2. Cleaners-R-Us: "They have five? Let's add eight?"
    3. Vacuum-4-You: "They have eight? Let's add twenty!"

    The thinking goes: If you beat your competition with better features, pricing, customer service, et. al -- then customers will come flocking to you instead of the competition. What does a smart firm do? Something like this:
    • The Smarty Firm: "They have twenty? Let's not compete with those guys. Let's just stick with one brush, cheapen the price since we only have one brush, and serve it to the amazingly humongous market that only needs one brush."

    (And as an aside: that's also known as disruptive innovation.)
  4. You don't rest on your asses.

    Guru Jim Collins showed in his six-year study that companies become visionary (a rich man's term of "enduring") by constantly improving. Beating yourself forces you to get up out of your rocker, tell yourself "I still suck today" -- and forces you to improve, improve, freakin' improve. Once-successful companies that have died thought they'd "arrived" -- until a seemingly-out-of-sight underdog company sent them into early retirement.

No, we're not saying you should completely ignore competitors (You could as well pick up tips from them to serve your customers better). Instead, switch your perspective on who's really your biggest competition. Our sweet tip for ya:

It's not a "How can we beat them to win market share?" question. It's a "How can we ^^@^!& beat ourselves to provide more customer value?" question.

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Posted on July 26

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