I spend my days helping clients come up with swag ideas to promote their business or brand. The vast majority of the time it is because they want their clients (or potential clients) to choose their business over the competition. And honestly, that is what most business owners think about on a daily basis. We all want to get ahead of the competition.
My industry is pretty competitive, but at the same time, we offer each other a lot of support.
When I started in this industry at 21, I was so naive. I thought I had to hate the competition and do everything I could to win over clients so they would buy from me instead of them. As I had never met any of my competitors, it was easy to think of them in an abstract way. But then I ran into my main competitor (40 years my senior) face to face and I was a little intimidated. However, once I got to know him, my attitude about competitors changed. I started looking at what I could learn from them instead of focusing on how I could beat them.
Here are some of my top lessons:
- Never talk bad about your competition. It’s fine to point out your strengths, what you do differently or how your product is superior. However, never bad mouth, tell lies or even insinuate things that are not true about your competition. It may be tempting if your client says something negative to add to it, but just don’t. It doesn’t make you look good and just comes back to bite you. If your competition is really doing something that is wrong, illegal or dangerous, report it to the appropriate authorities, don’t take it upon yourself to call them out to your clients.
- Your competitor is doing something right. It might be big things, it might be little things. Swallow your pride and realize that you can learn from them. Listen to your customers when they tell you why they order from them. Ask why they like their products, what is it about the buying process they like. Learn what your competition is doing right. You have the choice to then improve the way you do things or get rid of some ineffective processes or products you have to improve the buying process for your clients.
- Meet your competitors. I have always said in our industry that there is enough business to go around. That’s just the attitude I have. Have coffee with your competition, talk to them at industry events, take some time to get to know them. This isn’t to say you have to make friends with them. I’ve met some competitors of mine that are just plain nasty and unethical. But after meeting them and realizing this, I was less scared of them as competition. I knew with that attitude they would do themselves in. And they did. But I also have a group that I meet up with on a regular basis when we are at trade shows, or I can email them when I need ideas or specific help with a project. They are wonderful, supportive and fun to be around.
- Figure out how you are different and promote that. Don’t just say your customer service is better or that your product is superior. The truth is, that in my industry I sell the exact same items as my competitor. What sets me apart? What do I do that is unique and better than my competitor that my clients will recognize and appreciate? This is where recognizing what your competition is doing right comes in handy, because in that discovery process you probably also found out some things they do wrong. Maybe those are the things you focus on doing right. Can you guarantee on time delivery, do you send regular updates on the status of their order, do you answer calls at any time of the day, respond to emails within a couple of hours? Your industry is unique in what would be considered superior service or products, so figure that out and flaunt it.
- Do something that makes you stand out. Something above and beyond. Maybe it’s sending an article that relates to their business. Maybe it’s sending cookies on their birthday, host a happy hour or golf outing or bring in ice cream sandwiches for the office on a hot summer day. Be more and do more than your competitors.
Knowing your competition will make you better. It will teach you what you should and shouldn’t do as you learn from not only your mistakes, but theirs as well. Competition is good as it keeps us on our toes and forces us to not become complacent.
What are some of the best lessons your competitors have taught you?