How do you keep a competitive edge?
It’s pretty easy when you start a business. You’ve got a blank sheet of paper and you can create pretty much whatever you want.
You look around at your competitors, you see what they do well and what they don’t do so well, and you chose how you’re going to compete:
- It may be creating a product that has features and benefits that outweigh those of your competitors;
- It may be in the quality of service you’re going to provide;
- It may be in brand, or routes to market, or pricing, or sales skills, or something else.
Whatever it is, it will differentiate you from your competitors, something that makes what you’re selling better than their offerings, that gives customers a good reason to buy from you rather than anyone else, that gives you a decent chance of making a success of your new venture.
The much bigger challenge is how to retain that competitive edge. As your business grows and as you, as the founder, become completely tied up in dealing with the day to day job of managing and doing, more often than not the edge that was once there starts to be eroded. Your competitors see what you’re doing and match or more probably improve on your differentiation. New challengers come into the market with disruptive products and services, fresh ideas and unlimited energy. Almost before you know what’s happening you’re no longer new and exciting, you’re stuffy and boring. OMG. Not a good place to be.
Prevention, cure or too late?
Not only how do you prevent this happening, but more importantly how do you retain a clear differential between you and your competitors?
It’s clearly not easy – ask Nokia or Blackberry, or the Imperial Typewriter Company.
- Be on the case. Don’t relax or worse still become complacent. Never stop thinking about, looking for and exploring new ideas.
- Keep close to customers. The quality of your USPs will not remain static – they will ebb and flow. Customer service, product quality and customer loyalty will help you through weaker times, but only for a while. You’ve got to react and execute quickly.
- Listen carefully. You’ll learn more from your customers and, in particular, your prospective customers, about what your competition are doing than you will in most other ways. You’ll also hear about their own needs and how those needs might be changing.
- Know your competition. Keeping abreast with your key competition is important. Keep an eye on their websites, their social media feeds, their financial reports, and check them out at shows and exhibitions. Talk with them but be careful to filter out mis-information.
- Watch parallel markets. Often there are similar marketplaces that aren’t directly competitive with your own. They can be a good source of ideas for your own business.
- Don’t miss the newbies. When you started your business you were probably ‘under the radar’ of your competitors for a while before you became a noticeable thorn in their side. Watch out for new ‘thorns’ and ignore them at your peril.
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