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Is Your Competition Your Evil Empire, Your Verbal Dumping Ground or Your Classroom?

Competition is what makes a market.  How you respond to that competition is critical to your entrepreneurial success.  While they may be "the enemy," they actually may provide the basis for that success.

In life, early impressions often last longest and deepest. Same thing in business. The earliest part of my career was spent in the IBM Corporation.  In those days, IBM made it a point of belief and practice to RESPECT and NEVER disparage the matter what THEY might do or say in a customer situation.  In addition, IBM had a group within the company whose sole purpose was to know and understand our competition, its products and its sales strategies and tactics, and to pass that information, accompanied by some suggested offsetting strategies and tactics by product, along to the sales force.   Both of those practices were of immeasurable help to me in my early sales days and made such an impression on me that I've carried them throughout my entrepreneurial career and they have served me well in every situation.

These are two precepts that I believe entrepreneurs should always embrace.  First, respect the competition and never talk about them (good or bad)in a customer situation.  Second, you can never know enough about a competitor, their company, products/services and strategies/tactics.

How is intense is competition in your market?  
Does it get ugly? Does one major competitor drive the market? Does everybody play off of that competitor? Think about how you view your competition.  Are they the "black hats," "evil empire," etc., in your company's mind?  How does that play out in your attitude about them (and how you speak about them) in the market and in prospective  customer situations? Do you openly knock them? Why?  Does that make your product better? Does it make your company look better?  Neither, in fact, it, usually makes folks uncomfortable, and makes you and your company just look small (and that doesn't mean in size).

No matter how intense, the competitive battles, "take the high road."  Don't waste precious time with your prospective customer talking about anything but how YOUR company and product/service can respond to and meet their needs. In fact, as we'll touch on, once you know your competition well, you can actually subtly sell against them (e.g., emphasizing a feature/function/benefit that they cannot deliver), without ever once mentioning them.

How much do you REALLY know about your competition?  
Not just how their product compares to  yours (and you'd be surprised how many entrepreneurs don't even know that one well), but about their company, culture and beliefs. While they may, invariably, be bigger, sometimes by a factor of 10 or even 100, there is a reason why they got there.  "Go to school"  on them.  They are successful for a reason.  They were once small like you. Find out how they grew and what you can do to not only emulate some of the key traits or practices that gave them early success, but maybe improve on things that they have let slide as they have grown.

What do customers say about them?  
If they're unhappy, why?  Every large competitor has developed an "Achilles heel" over the years.  Find it and exploit it!  Whether it's that feature/function/benefit that they can't deliver or that corporate policy that impacts customer service. Use it to your competitive advantage.

You can't avoid having competition.  But entrepreneurs can learn so much from that competition that it can actually make you more successful as a competitor.  And you can do it, without even acknowledging their existence.

The Entrepreneur's Yoda knows these things.  He's been there.  May success be with you!


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