Being Unaware Is Not a Valid Excuse

Do you know what your competitors are up to? Do you know what they’re offering? What they’re marketing? What they’re working on?

When was the last time you visited their website? Or, if they have a physical location, that you went into their facility? When was the last time you checked their financials (if they’re publicly available)?

When was the last time you analyzed their marketing messages? Or tried what they’re selling?

If you’re like most business owners or entrepreneurs most of your answers were, “No,” “Never,” or “It’s been awhile.” And that’s a problem that may be costing you a massive amount of business (and could possibly put you out of business if you’re not careful).

Competitive Intelligence And Your Prospects

While most business owners say that don’t have time to do any competitive analysis, the reality is that time is irrelevant to the conversation. Time is a fixed constant. What isn’t is how we use our time (based on our priorities, values, efficiencies, etc.).

In other words, having “time” to do competitive analysis isn’t the issue, it’s a priority/value issue. So, why should you care? Why should you take the time to study and know your competition inside out?

Why? Because your prospects do. Anyone with a smart phone/tablet/laptop/computer can do some pretty quick comparison shopping very quickly these days without even breaking a sweat.

Just think through how you shop now. Do you go with the first vendor you meet or hear about or see? No way. You go online and do some comparison shopping.

So, if that’s what you do when you buy, what do you think your prospects do when they want to buy? Exactly!

The day of thinking, “I don’t care what my competitors are doing” is long gone. You have to care about competitive intelligence if you want to attract more people to your business.

Why? Because in a world of search (Google/Bing/Yahoo/etc.), review sites, message boards, and social media, never before have your prospects had more competitive research available to them at their fingertips—and they’re using it (just like you are).

Note: If you think that just because you’re a professional (e.g. an attorney, physician, consultant, accountant, financial planner, etc.) you don’t need to do this, guess again. Your prospects are checking out more than just you when they want someone to help them solve the issue you solve.

Competitive Intelligence And Your Strategy

In addition, you should take the time to do competitive analysis because it’s essential to creating an effective strategy for your business.

One of the core questions that must be answered in good strategy development is, “What are your (or our) competitive advantages?” Using a word like, “competitive” one would think that most businesses would discern that they’d need to do some competitive analysis in order to define their competitive advantages—and you’d be wrong.

When confronted with the question, “Why should anyone in your market space choose your business over any and every other business in your market space?” the vast majority of business owners have no idea how to answer that question. And when they do, they almost always answer it with a generic answer like, “We have great customer service.”

However, if you haven’t shopped or used your competitors, how do you know that’s a COMPETITIVE advantage? Moreover, if you haven’t reviewed their marketing materials, how can you say that customer service is your differentiator? What if they’re claiming it as well?

In fact, I’ve done this with clients. For example, a few years ago when I worked with a credit union and I asked them this question, they all said their competitive advantage was their customer service. Knowing what I’d find, I pulled up the websites of the seven closest financial institutions and guess what they all said? Exactly! “Great customer service!”

Now, think about that. If everyone is saying “Great customer service” is their competitive advantage, can great customer service really be a competitive advantage? Not even close.

That’s why you have to continually be committed to doing competitive intelligence work. You have to know what they’re doing so you can differentiate yourself. And since they’re constantly changing, you can’t simply do competitive analysis every now and then. You have to do it regularly.

Competitive Intelligence and Longevity

Finally, you have to care about doing competitive analysis because the world is changing at warp speed these days. And if you’re not in front of the change, you can be taken out.

Just think of businesses that were high flyers not that long ago, that are now out of favor or dead. Dell, Microsoft, Yahoo, Blackberry, Blockbuster, Netflix, AOL, E.F. Hutton, RCA, Compaq, MCI, Borders, B. Dalton, Walden Books, The Room Store, Pets.com, Circuit City, Silicon Graphics, The Sharper Image, etc.

And it’s not just big businesses, is it? Think of all the businesses in your community that once were there that aren’t now. Restaurants, doctors, accountants, realtors, software developers, website designers, clothiers, grocery stores, boutique stores, local hardware stores, local banks, insurance agencies, etc.

Somewhere there’s someone who’s working to undermine what you’re doing. In fact, I was recently doing some research for a chiropractor and found an organization offering chiropractic adjustments for just $29 per visit or $49/month for four adjustments (with additional adjustments at just $19). Think that might be good to know? Absolutely!

Note: I’m not suggesting that that chain will succeed or that a chiropractor ought to adjust their prices accordingly. All I’m saying is that that’s the kind of information any good business owner ought to know so they can respond appropriately before it’s too late!

Next Steps

So, what should you do in response to all of this? My recommendation would be to make competitive intelligence a normal part of your work world. You can assign other people tasks (like mystery shopping or charting competitive advantages), but you need to own the idea.

Furthermore, at a minimum, I would suggest that at least once a month, you ought to be checking out your competition. Put a reminder on your calendar. Check out their websites. Check out their marketing materials. Check out their calendar of events. Check out their offerings.

If they have a mailing list, get on it. If they have a newsletter, subscribe. If they have a facility, check it out (and if they’re in retail, check back several times a year).

Buy their stuff. Try their products and services yourself. And use them often. Why? Because if you will, you’ll be way ahead of most of the businesses in your market space. And because most business owners won’t take the time to do this—your commitment to regularly engaging in competitive intelligence will end being one of your competitive advantages—if you so accept the challenge!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have some other insights or ideas about doing competitive intelligence, please add them to the conversation below (or click here >> if you’re reading this by email or RSS)