If you don’t know your nearest enemy, you should.
And you should give them special attention. You may have several competitors in your space but it is essential to focus on the one that is nipping at your heels; you are extremely vulnerable if they decide to grow at your expense.
Here are some simple and proven ways to turn the tables on them.
Know them like your BFF
Know your competitor better than you know your own company; put together a fat dossier on them. You need to be close to the ones closest to you so you can either keep them at bay or attack them to gain position. Analyze them extensively and in as much granularity as you can. Construct their strategic game plan and the priorities that you see them pursuing.
Which customer groups are they focusing on? What sales tactics do they use? What successes have they had? Why do people buy from them — what is their value proposition?
Monitor social media
Stay alert for any market conversations affecting their brand. Analyze the comments and opinions that are posted on the products and services they are providing, and look at WHO are publishing the posts. Look for comments on sales.
Try and categorize the commentary for your purposes. Does it expose sales weaknesses, pricing problems or product reliability issues?
Strike a competitive action team — CAT
Put together a small team of sales and marketing people to act like your competitor — include service people on the team as well. Have them develop a strategy to attack you; develop countermeasures and prepare to launch at the appropriate moment. The team should try and exploit every vulnerability you have — assume the enemy knows your weaknesses; you can only benefit if they don’t.
As president of a data and internet organization, I would stage mock battle workshops with the CAT team and our sales team leaders. CAT would lead with an offensive move and sales (with marketing) would have to respond and counterpunch as appropriate. Both sides would critique marketing’s moves, the winner would be decided and we would collectively discuss what we learned from the exercise. Then we would continue with CAT making another move.
The workshops worked extremely well on two fronts: they yielded high-quality sales tactics which turned out to be useful in the field when the competitor acted out their role — with uncanny accuracy they behaved the way the CAT had predicted — and they developed a highly engaged marketing and sales team which were rarely surprised by any competitive move.
ID who’s vulnerable
Your competitor will not go after everyone, they will likely target your customers they see as highly profitable and who have shown a tendency to use more than a single supplier. Or they may be organizations who already use one or more of your competitor’s offerings.
Create a list of these accounts and rank order them in terms of their strategic importance to you along with a “penetration assessment” — how easy it would likely be for the competitor to make inroads to the account.
Prepare tactical plans
Develop a customized tactical plan for each customer on your “who’s vulnerable” list. Adopt an “attack don’t defend” mantra. Look for opportunities to provide more product and service solutions as well as service support that gives them special treatment.
In my experience, the tactical mix I always leaned toward was skewed in favour of selling more relevant solutions — as a result of thoughtful analysis and understanding of their wants and desires — as opposed to merely laying on more TLC retention activity aimed at keeping them from leaving.
Go into their camp
Engage with “the bad guys” customers; walk among them and search for opportunities to strike. Determine who their “A” customers are and talk to them in terms of how well they are being served. What are they happy/unhappy about?
My approach was to call my C-Suite counterpart in an organization “held” by my competitor and ask to take them to lunch to discuss potential opportunities we could offer them. I didn’t delegate this task. The stakes were high enough to warrant it being a critical priority for our organization and it demanded my personal time.
Rarely was my invitation turned down, but not always did it yield the fruit we were looking for in terms of selling more solutions or gaining a deep insight into an exposure that the competitor had. But it ALWAYS kept them honest and wary that we were prepared to take all possible measures to attack them.
Hire their best
If you’re really serious about attacking, go out and hire demonstrated achievers in their organization not for just their skills and experience, but for what they know.
I would always look to marketing and sales people as prime targets as they the main participants in strategy formulation and can provide the insight needed to create offensive initiatives or countermeasures. Service leaders in the competitor’s organization are also good targets as they are the mainstay of strategy execution and should be able to provide intelligence on how effective their operations is.
Turning the tables on your closest competitor can’t be achieved by business as usual methods. It requires treating them as one of your most prized customers, only with a twist.
Your intentions are not to delight them but to challenge, frustrate, annoy and dominate them.
And to teach them that messing with you is bad business for them.