Who’s Your Competitor, Looking In All The Wrong Places

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The email asked me to participate in a market research survey.  It was from one of the old line business publications, it promised a donation to one of my favorite charities, so I decided to take it.

The survey was pretty exhaustive.  It asked me all sorts of questions about my reading preferences.  There was one problem, though.  As they asked for my preferences, the choices I was given were only their traditional competition–other old line business publications.  They never asked me some important questions–if they had, they would have discovered something entirely different and more important.

They got my views on the comparison of their magazine to all the competitors (same ones from the 90’s, 2000’s.)  But they never asked me where I go for my news today.  Where years ago, these publications were a primary source of my news on certain topics, virtually all of them have take a distant back seat to other more current/easier to access sources.  The importance of these traditional publications has been hugely diminished to me.  These traditional publications make up less than 20% of the resources I use to keep current.

Because they were so focused on their traditional competition (the 20%), they failed to understand the 80% that was getting my business and mindshare.

While they may have taken my input to help them better compete against their traditional competition, anything they did would probably not get any more of my attention.

Too often, when we look at our competition, we look in all the same old places.  We look at the traditional competitors–organizations selling similar products and services.  But those may not be the competitors your customers are considering.  And missing these, may mean we are missing the opportunity our customers are really trying to address.

In the past, we often defined our competition as the organizations in the same business as us, they offered the same products, they showed up in all the same deals we competed for.

But today competition has changed.

There are the disruptive new approaches that turn industries upside down with a completely different business model and offering.  We all know the stories of Uber, AirBnB and others.  To be honest, these are pretty rare.

In the past, competition was relatively “local,” or at least at a feeling of a local presence.  We tended to compete against folks in the same region/country.  Competition from around the world seldom made it to our local consideration.  While technically, they were competitors, they seldom showed up at our customers.  As a result, we ignored them.  Yet today, we compete in a global market place.  If your customers are in Western Europe, they are as likely to consider suppliers in the Far East, India, North/South America, or Eastern European countries.  Our own company has switched some of our key services from a global company, but with the majority of it’s presence in North America, to a smaller more agile company in Europe.  The sales person for our old supplier never was aware of the alternative we switched to until we cancelled our contract.

Competition comes from companies packaging solutions differently.  We no longer just buy products, we buy complete solutions with products, services, and other things combined into a “different” solution.  These come from “competitors” who may be defining the customers’ “problems” differently than we traditionally have.  Their solutions aren’t revolutionary, they are just packaged in a way that makes more sense to the customers.

SaaS, is an outstanding example.  Fundamentally, it’s the same as “packaged software.”  In fact many vendors give you the opportunity to buy packaged software or a SaaS offering.  But if I buy packaged software, I have to deal with those folks in IT who don’t prioritize my project.  Since the vendor hosts it, I don’t have to worry about IT.  Or rather than pay everything up front plus annual maintenance, I can just pay by the month (even though doing a deeper analysis shows that I probably paying more over that 3 year contract).

But none of these are the biggest competitors.

The biggest are often our customers solving the problems themselves (DIY) or the competitor named “Status Quo.”  Of the thousands of deal reviews I have participated in, I can count on one hand the number of sales people that identified “Doing Nothing” as a competitor and were developing competitive strategies to address this.

Then there is one final category, it’s ourselves.  It’s our inability to engage customers in meaningful, relevant ways, creating value with the customer in every interaction.

Are you looking for your competition in all the wrong places?

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