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Customer Focus - Translating Competition into Improvement

We all like a bit of friendly competition, right? Well, competition can feel awfully personal too, especially if it’s your business that’s on the line. But by using knowledge of a competitor productively, you not only avoid getting thrown off your game but can even improve how your organization operates. Think of competitors as learning opportunities: thanks to them, you can assess your own performance in ways you might not think of otherwise.


Translate what you know about a competitor into meaningful growth that makes you better suited to thrive.

What is Translating Competition into Improvement?
Like any good business practice, assessing the competition is simply a matter of using available information to guide your business smartly. It doesn’t involve subterfuge or industrial espionage: think of it more like due diligence, in which you learn as much as possible about another organization to see how healthy their operation is. But the point is not to work out whether they’ll succeed – it’s to work out whether – and how – you will. You want to avoid making rash decisions as a result of what you learn: swerving to avoid obstacles is much more dangerous than calmly changing lanes. Instead, use research about competitors to spur your organization into smart decisions you might have otherwise missed.

How does Translating Competition into Improvement improve employee engagement and culture?
Competition is always good for the customer, but you have to work hard to make it good for you. First, as a rule of thumb, the better you treat your employees the better they’ll treat you (as in, your organization), and so the more opportunities you have to tweak your operation the better it will be for colleagues. Second, learning from competitors and showing employees you’re introducing smart changes– or avoiding bad changes – gives them extra confidence in your organization, reducing the potential for them to skip across the road in search of greener pastures. You want to be able to retain your best people, regardless of what competitors are offering.

What are the benefits?
Competitor research is a vital way of assessing the marketplace and, by extension, helping you provide customers with more of what they want and less of what they don’t.

How do you conduct Translating Competition into Improvement in the workplace?
Without any competition, you would have no motivation to grow. Nor would you know how to, because you would not have anyone learn from. So it’s important to see competitors as opportunities, not threats. You can even, if in a position of relative safety, exchange ideas and collaborate with competitors, to mutual benefit, even if just in informal ways. That said, you don’t want to become so comfortable that you ignore the potential for your organization to be overtaken or put out of business, whether by existing competitors or someone new you never saw coming. Cultivate a respectful attitude toward competitors, but always take seriously the threat they can pose.


Learn About Them to Learn About You

Let’s assume you’ve done your research about your competitors. You know about their prices, their profit margins, their market share, even the personalities of their CEOs and senior execs. Most of all, you know what they do well and what they don’t. So how do you turn that knowledge from something either reassuring or threatening into something that makes you a better competitor yourself?

One useful approach is to sort what you learn into three categories:

Do something better
Of course, anything the competition does better than you is an area you need to improve on. Customers know when companies are mimicking each other, however, and you don’t want to be a copycat by adopting a competitor’s approach without adding anything of your own. Find a way to do something better that you previously did worse, a way that can tip the advantage back to you and draw more customer attention. Think of Apple – they’re not often the first to do something, but when they eventually enter a market it’s usually with the most polished offering available.

Do the best, better
This area is where you already have market advantage. While your competitors may or may not realize that from their own research, either way they’re on the back foot. The tendency may be to gloat or simply relax in these areas, redirecting attention elsewhere, but have you heard the story of the tortoise and the hare? Don’t slack off too soon! Think of an area where you’ve been especially successful compared to the rest of the field. Keep on innovating in that area: that’s your company’s signature. Protect and expand on that distinction.

What you both do the same way
Here’s a tricky one. Maybe you both have it right. Or, maybe you’re both opting for the most conventional approach. Make a list of what you and your competitors do the same. Choose one aspect on the list as a possible option to help you push ahead of them. Don’t start with items in this category, but don’t neglect it either.

The bottom line is that you should just improve in all three categories. How is this really helpful then? Well, hopefully categorizing strengths and weaknesses will reveal something you would not have otherwise realized about how you do business. It may give you an opportunity to capitalize on a previously untapped area or shore up a leak where you’re getting badly beaten. Competitor research, really, is just one more way of researching yourself.

Lastly, remember that no one stays in business without customers. It’s not about beating the competition so much as it is about earning the customer’s trust. If you give them what they want, they’ll come to you. If someone else does it better, they’ll go there. Keep customer focus as your goal whenever you look at the competition, and you’ll avoid getting caught up in hasty decisions or competition mind-games, putting you in a more stable position for the future.

Reference Material
Understand your competitors
How to do a competitive analysis in 5 easy steps

Updated on: 01/07/2021

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