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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 01/23/2013

Small business advice: How to capitalize on your competitors’ strengths

Criticizing the competition is human nature. We praise the quality of our own product, the genius of our unique selling points, and we rejoice in the weaknesses of our competors. We instinctively criticize our competitors because we’re constantly fighting them for market share.


Noting that “inflated egos have killed more than their share of industry giants,” Quinn suggests keeping a close eye on the strengths of your competitors. (Astrid Riecken - FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
All that backslapping feels good internally, but it doesn’t necessarily improve your marketing strategy. What if, instead of picking apart their weaknesses, you celebrated your competition in the morning meeting? Consider asking your team, “If we worked for that company in our current roles, how would we sell their products against our own and leverage their position in the market?”

By examining the strengths of your competitors, you might discover new insights to market your own product better.

Examining the strengths of the competition

Most of the time, we never give our competitors credit for the stuff they do that’s arguably better than what we do. It’s hard for most people to admit they’re not as good as their competition, but the reality is that they’re doing business in your market, so they must be doing something right. It’s important to figure out what that is and do it better than they do it — or figure out a way to minimize their advantage altogether.

Every member of your team should be looking the areas in which your company is weaker than the competition, and do it across all disciplines. Why don’t you have your marketing guys shoot holes in the product assortment – and have the product development team shoot holes in the marketing approach? When you put your own business model through a serious and different type of critique, you are likely to hit upon some new insights that will help you build value.

Related: How to keep tabs on rivals using social media

For instance, years ago, visco memory foam mattresses started to gain momentum because of the great marketing efforts of companies like Tempur-Pedic. Being a spring producer, it was very easy for our company to criticize that product. We spent time in meetings talking about how these mattresses were never going to get big because the products were obviously inferior to spring mattresses – but that’s not what the consumer was saying.

We did a lot of work to learn why the product was working so well for retailers and, as a result, created our own language, defining springs combined with memory foam as “hybrid” mattresses so we could join the category growth, rather than fight it.

Hiring the competition

One great exercise is to imagine you are running the other guy’s company and ask yourself, “Who are my best people? Who are the guys that give my competition a reason to be worried?” This can help you identify talent that serves your own company and expose what’s lacking.

In my industry, it’s common for people to end up working for the competitor. I once worked for Sealy — the number-one mattress company at the time — and ended up working for Serta, which was third. While working at my old company, I had convinced myself that the only mattress on the planet worth owning was a Sealy. When I switched companies, I realized Serta did make good mattresses, and in many ways, Serta’s products were better.

Had I spent more time examining the strengths of the competition, I might have understood the competitive landscape a little differently, giving us more of an edge. We focused on the weaknesses, instead of the strengths, and only captured part of the story.

Killer confidence

There are many companies that are so overly confident in their success that they don’t see the guy in their rearview mirror closing in until it’s too late – and before they know it, he’s passing them by.

When you’re climbing the ladder trying to become the market leader, you do things differently than the guy who is the market leader. You work harder because you have to, and you let yourself be a student of the industry, constantly examining the marketplace for a creative approach.

Success can be dangerous because it puts you in a position of complacency. You’re no longer concerned with the people at the top because you are the people at the top, and you grow comfortable as the industry benchmark of success. But believing no one does it better than you is a dangerous way to think, and inflated egos have killed more than their share of industry giants.

So, ask yourself the question, “If I wanted to put my own company out of business, how would I do it?” Brainstorm for a while and see if you want to continue on the same path.

Competition is a great thing because it drives us to be better if we’re paying attention and respecting the opportunity to learn. To quote the great Andrew Carnegie, “While the law of competition may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.”

Mark Quinn is a Segment VP of Marketing with Leggett & Platt in Joplin, Missouri and has more than two decades of experience. Quinn also writes a bedding industry and marketing blog called Q’s Views.

By Mark Quinn  |  08:00 AM ET, 01/23/2013

Tags:  small business, advice

 
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