Your best business driver is your competition. They keep you awake, aware, honest, and creative. You want them, you need them, and they are worthy opponents. Without competition, you won’t strive to stay ahead of your field, and you won’t have a way to measure your success/failure.
Too often, we position ourselves according to what we perceive our market will pay for, or what we must say to prove our concept, or our own biased belief of how our market wants to buy.
Sometimes we end up vying for customers in a price competition. Sometimes our offering seems similar to others – obvious to us, but indistinguishable to our prospective clients.
How do we develop a strategy that uses our competitors to help us get clients and differentiate ourselves according to how the buyers want to buy?
YOU AREN’T MARKETING IN A VACUUM
Let’s start by thinking about the areas of distinction between you and your competitors.
Who are you in the market?
Who do you want to be perceived as – the new ones? The young ones? The smart ones? The innovative ones? How do you want people to choose you over the competition – by price? By service? By capability? By brand?
How do your competitors do this? Do you want to be similar? Or do you want to be really, really different? What are your options for achieving this? And how/when will you know whether or not your choices were appropriate, or what you might want to change? And what is the fallout?
How do you want to be seen?
Do you want to be seen as The Experts? A lovely group of service providers to solve every problem? A collaboratory between customers and provider? A company that is always developing new capabilities?
Notice how your competition is perceived. Do you want to be different? The same only better?
Defining the market
Does your competition define the market differently than you? What demographic do they appeal to? How is this made obvious? Are there areas within the market that they aren’t addressing but are blazingly obvious to you? What modality are they using to position themselves within the market? Is it effective? What’s working? What’s not? Have you enlarged or diminished your solution to go after the corporate market or the small business market?
How similar/different do you want to be from your competitors – i.e. do you want to appeal to different market sectors or the same? What will you get from each?
Is your solution is similar to your competitor but with different price points? Has your competitor priced their solution higher to go after the corporate market, or lower for the small-medium business market? Where do you fit in? How does your competition advertize on price – or not? Do you want to shriek with pop-ups, or quietly suggest a conference call?
How do you want to position your pricing in relation to your competitors? Note: I’ve always taken myself out of the price competition by pricing myself out of the market (i.e I’m more expensive). That way people buy my services based on quality. Or not.
How are your competitors getting their name out? Ezines, blog, webinars, white papers, social media, discussion groups? Do you want to meet them head on? Be different? How?
How can you translate who you are onto a one/two dimensional screen? How are your competitors using color, font, style, verbiage, other technology like chat avatars or contact sheets? Who are you, and how do you look/act on a site.
WHAT ARE YOUR COMPETITORS SAYING THAT YOU MUST HEED?
What do you like about your competitor’s sites? What do you not like?
Take a look at your competitors sites. Do some research on Google to find out where they are advertising, or who they are partnering with, or where they have articles placed or when they are doing webinars. In fact, sign up for a webinar of a competitor so you can get a good understanding of who they are and how they position themselves.
Use Google Alerts with key words to find out who is using the terms that are important to you. Decide if you want to use similar terms in similar ways, or re-orient the market to your way of thinking.
Go onto your competition’s site and see who their clients are. Are they the same as yours? Why? Why not? What are they doing/not doing that attracts those clients and how do you want to position yourself differently…or the same?
What is most important about how buyers perceive you or them? Do you want to change your image?
MY CHOICES, AND HOW I DEALT WITH MY COMPETITION
I have a very specific problem with my brand. I’ve developed a wholly original change management model that sits on the front end of the selling model to help buyers navigate through those internal, behind-the-scenes human/political issues they must go through to move forward. You know, that stuff they do while we wait and have little to do with our solutions.
Unfortunately, the material is in the field of ‘sales’ so my competition is the entire field of, and history of, sales. That’s right: every single sales method and sales training company is my competition.
So I have a solution no one wanted (i.e. the sales model has been ‘fine, thank you’ for centuries, regardless of the abysmal success rates) and no one wanted to change, regardless of the dramatic results my Buying Facilitation® model offers. In fact, the model itself is so different there are no points of similarity between my solution and sales. No competition, right? Wrong.
So I’ve had a multi decade problem. First, I tried to match my marketing materials to the field I was supporting (i.e. sales) and failed miserably because no one understood why I sounded so different if I were offering something so similar.
Then I decided to pit myself against my competition and spend years explaining how silly sales was. That just got me a lot of hostility.
Then I decided to align myself with the field and say that I had a complementary solution (this is true) and coined new terms that the field is now using (i.e. buying decision path, how buyers buy, etc.). In effect, I dumbed down my message.
I then began writing a blog that used my thinking to open up all of the problems with sales and position my material as as an adjunct to sales – thereby aligning with my competition fully. With syndications, webinars, podcasts, and articles in various ezines and magazines, I met my competition in all of the places it showed up (it’s SALES for goodness sakes!) and offered the counter viewpoint.
I had other, smaller decisions to make. How did I want to be seen? I decided I wanted to be accessible, since my solution was visionary and would attract other visionaries with lots of questions. I designed sites in a way buyers could find me easily, so my phone number and email address appear everywhere.
The main point is to be flexible and thoughtful. Be ready to change on a dime when something isn’t working, and know the difference between what success and failure look like.