What we do to keep competitors weak
I hate my competitors. I hate them all. If you compete against me for business you are my sworn enemy and the subject of much focus. I rejoice when you struggle and celebrate when you leave the market. I don’t buy into the concept that there is room for all in the industries we engage into. The mantra we evangelize in our companies is rather simple: Every day is an opportunity to make life miserable for our competitors and crush them like the cockroaches that they are.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in a market where companies compete. Monopolies have no place in the economy and state-run entities rarely offer great prices or services. I love the fact that my suppliers must perform versus others to win or keep my business. It promotes innovation and helps keep prices in check. That doesn’t mean that I should encourage it for our holdings or make life easy for our competitors. Business is war and in war you try and eliminate or demoralize your enemies.
Here are my practices for keeping competitors weak:
Gather Data: Far more companies go bankrupt because of competition than market conditions yet most only focus on industry data. We try and know as much as we can about all of our competitors. Their offerings, people, culture, and clients. No piece of data is too small. We create teams of 3 that focus on this regularly and do advanced Google searches, review social media sites and dig down on their customers/staff. Our belief that 5% of this team’s time should be spent on competition research. This equates to about 2 hours per week per person. After a year we have invested over 300 hours of information gathering into our competitors. This means we generally know more about them than they do about us. We also now have processes that allow our competition teams to verify inflow of information and present it in a practical, working manner. That is in itself a great competitive advantage.
Have a plan: I’m amazed how many companies have no plan on how to deal with various competitors. We stick to our business model but also adjust to the realities of our competitors. We review our plans monthly and add new parameters depending on changes in the environment. The key is that we have specific plans for the top 5 competitors in every market as well as a SWOT analysis for them all. Our plan then allows us to adjust quickly to new services being offered, potentially poach great people or win more business. Competitors also begin to worry so much about us that they lose focus on their own businesses. We get stronger as they get weaker. Perfect.
Put in on the agenda: We book time to discuss competitor updates at every executive committee and board meetings. Sales meetings also include some time to compare pricings and won/lost bids to competition. We now have years of notes relating to the development in markets and the companies that operate there. It’s incredibly valuable data than enable us to make better strategic decisions. Beacuse it has a place on the agenda it becomes an important focus.
Be paranoid: Blackberry got taken to the cleaners by Apple in the smartphone business because they didn’t see the iPhone coming and when it did, they took it for granted. “I don’t see the big deal about this phone. Cool little gadget but it won’t catch on”, said they CEO at the time. That didn’t work out too well for them. Being paranoid and constantly worried about competition enables us to better visualize threats and adjust far more quickly to potentially dangerous situations.
Never talk badly: We fight like crazy and are paranoid but we’ve never said a bad word about our competitors to clients or the press. It’s bad for business and for culture. Statistics prove that speaking negatively about competitors has a reverse effect. That generally only leads to a discredited market and that’s negative for everyone.
Build a culture: We believe in a fun, growing culture but we also believe in being transparent and aggressive towards competitors. It’s very much about our team winning and working harder than the other team. We talk about competition almost every day and make a point for our staff to know when we’ve lost business to a competitor. We have found that it not demotivate them but rather helps them focus even harder on performing at a higher level.
It’s important to be cordial and professional when dealing with management and staff of competing companies. We like to be regarded as credible people who are hell to compete against. I’ll happily have drinks with them at tradeshows or industry events. It’s never personal. It’s like my old football coach Ken Davis once said: “When the play starts make sure they feel the thunder. You crush your opponent at every chance you get. It should be brutally painful being on that field. Make them regret they showed up and dared to play against you. Go so hard that they think you are possessed by an evil entity. Then when you hear the whistle, give them your hand, help them up, go back to the huddle and do it again. Then after the game buy them a soda, smile and tell them that was fun.”
That’s how the end of a workday should feel when we’ve done it right.