In sports, competition is a given. The best coaches and athletes spend an extraordinary amount of time studying their competitors. Game film is studied endlessly to learn the other team’s tendencies, their strengths and weaknesses. Self-scouting is done to determine what they do and do not do well. New plays are developed that the competition hasn’t seen before. Game plans are built to avoid the opponent’s strengths and exploit its weaknesses.
Most of the time, everything else being equal, the best prepared team will win.
By contrast most business owners cringe at the idea of competition. Competition is seen as a threat to their success, which in one respect it is. However, the existence of competitors also means there is a market for your goods or services. So I say instead of fearing the competition, let’s embrace it and learn from the pros how to best prepare to beat the competition.
Business owners often get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of running the business and lose sight of the competition. Studying competitors, finding their weaknesses and implementing plans to exploit them takes time, but if done consistently it will pay big dividends.
Here’s a list of tactics which can be used to gather information as you develop your plan of attack:
- Shop: As a small business owner I would occasionally use the service of my competitors. It was a great way for me to see how they treated their customers, what level of quality they delivered, how they handled problems, how busy they were and what they charged.
- Read: Subscribing to and actually reading trade magazines is a great way to pick up information. You may discover something new that your competitors have yet to catch on to. Getting on your competitor’s mailing lists is a great way to find out what they are up to as well. Local newspapers are another great source of information.
- Network: Getting out and talking with the competition will do wonders. Invariably if you let them talk they will tell you all the great things they are doing. Given enough time they may actually start sharing some of their struggles. Just be quiet and listen.
- Survey: Ask your customers what they like or dislike about doing business with you. Ask the same question about your competition. You can do this by email or snail mail with a simple questionnaire that offers some sort of incentive for a response.
- Talk: The next time a salesman or supplier stops in, quiz them on what’s going on in the industry. What are your competitors up to? What are they planning? What’s selling, and who’s buying it? It never hurts to ask. Chances are good you’ll pick up some valuable information.
Scouting is a continuous process. New information is coming in all the time and adjustments should be made as things change, but if done consistently it will help you remain one step ahead of the competition.