Keep a Lookout on your Competitors

The successful man is the one who finds out what is the matter with his business before his competitors do.Roy L. Smith

The quote is bang-on to let companies know how important it is to know what is going on inside their company that needs tweaking and changing and also to do it before their competition takes advantage of it. However, apart from checking on your own company, if you are a smart company you would also keep a lookout on your competitors. Having a grip and deep understanding of what your competitors ‘are up to’ is not about being intrusive but rather running a successful business long term. You just have to watch out for competition especially with the surge in start-ups and established companies making serious changes to lure customers. Strangely even today this is a rather ignored aspect of business and customer service – because even if you are not on the lookout, your competition most certainly is and sooner or later will steal your business.

In any case, in the spirit of innovation and getting better at what you do, it is always a good idea to know what people engaged in similar businesses are doing. Keeping a lookout on your competitors is an intelligent way to not only keep a check on people trying to steal your customers but also to know what customers think of your competition and how you fare vis-à-vis their customer service and offerings.  If keeping a lookout on your competitors is not that hard and has benefits, then why are so many companies failing at it and what can be done to remedy this?

Remember – never ignore any competitor. Even if a company was not big or famous enough to be touted as competition, things change, circumstances change and if you ignore these ‘small’ companies, you could probably be faced with a serious problem before you know it. Competitors are not always who and what you think they are and overlooking them can cause irreparable damage when customers see a new opportunity in a fresh and energized company willing to give them a lot more than they bargained for. Imagine the effort you put into gaining those customers and the losses and serious damage to repute if you were to lose them to a company that was never considered ‘competition’. That’s got to hurt – in inconceivable ways.

Social media networks can be extremely beneficial to keep a lookout on your competitors. There is so much, easily accessible information about individuals, companies and of course, your competitors. Have a dedicated task force to continually read up and note the activities of the competitors. Focused monitoring is also extremely useful in gaining valuable insights into the products, kind of service and overall image of your company’s competition. Read the blogs, updates and website content for your competitor’s company to check on what they are doing to attract the customer’s attention.  Keep a close watch and careful eye on public announcements, press releases and other promotional material meant for targeted customer groups to understand the competitor’s future strategies. Scrutiny, observation, reconnaissance – all these are perfectly acceptable words when keeping a lookout on your competitors.  In fact, being complacent by thinking that your customers will not leave you is an extremely fatal outlook which will benefit your competitors.

As you would understand from running a business, you don’t have just one competitor. Hence it would make for good business sense to follow and monitor the activities of a number of your closest competitors, if not all (which would be ideal).  Again have a dedicated task force to follow their strategies, gauge their next move, understanding their standard operating procedures, current and forecasted financial strength, business expansion plans, new customer segments to be targeted and any other information that will let you take pro-active measures to prevent losses and customer attrition rather than acting after the damage has been done. Companies need to ensure that whatever their competition is doing, they are doing better. To have a competitive edge, you need to remain in the lead, always thinking ahead of your competitors and this is only possible when you know what your competition is doing – keep a lookout on your competitors.  Ensure that whatever will matter to your customers, you are doing that better than your competitors.

Read up on customer reviews and opinions on a competitor’s new launched product or service.  Look at both the good and not so good reviews to get a feel of what the customer is saying and use this information to change your product for the better or market your current product in a more effective manner. There are many customers who take the trouble to post comments almost daily about how they feel about products and companies – keeping an eye out for these posts would save your company a lot of trouble and costs. If customers like to discuss companies and products, ensure that you give them a forum for discussion, before the competitor does. This will ensure that you get first hand feedback about both your company’s strengths and weaknesses and also those of the competition.

Invest in a team solely dedicated to research. The key responsibility of this team would be to gather competitor and market intelligence.  Download or order in their brochures, catalogues or any other valuable written material that would provide first-hand information about the competition.  Get this team to use popular search engines to check out whatever information there is about your competitors, including a former customer, a laid off employee or an employee who left the company for any reason. Any kind of feedback and or information can prove useful when keeping a lookout on your competitors. Join the same groups on social media that your competitors are a part of – take part in discussions and learn from what they speak about or present their views on. This team should also check on what the competitor’s vendors say about them – payment schedules, promptness, distribution and supply chain strategies, kinds of contracts and quotations with each vendor and other such third-party information.

It is no secret that almost everyone in business is keeping an eye out for their competition and so if you approach your customers directly to ask them how they feel about your company vis-à-vis your competition, they will share their opinion. The customer’s perceptions and views on you versus your competition is a reliable and sure-shot way to gain vital information. Another method that a number of companies are indulging in is mystery shopping. They send their employees to ‘buy’ from competitors to assess the buying experience, customer service provided, pricing of various products and also product quality. Keeping an eye out for deals, offers and pricing changes offered by competition will allow you to tweak the corresponding offerings from your company to better suit the customer. The whole aim is to retain current customers, win back lost customers and also attract and lure new customers to increase business.

Keeping a lookout on your competitors also reveals a number of interesting facts for your company. It is possible that someone you considered competition, is actually competing with someone else and that third company is really competition for both of you. This will help to re-strategize and look at your competitor analysis differently. However you go about keeping a check on your competitors, the fact is that staying ahead of competition is crucial to success. It may not be an easy task, but at least you know the kind of customer service and offerings you need to provide to be the first choice of any customer. Knowledge is power – in this case it is the power to keep you ahead and make you a sustained winner.

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