“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” –Sun-Tzu
The world continues to become a smaller place and your industry or line of work is no exception to this. Social networking tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn allow us to understand and get to know our competition from a distance but how well do you really know or understand the people you stand across enemy lines with? If the answer is no then you are doing your company and yourself a disservice.
Chances are your customers work with multiple companies in the same line of business. An auto dealer will buy advertising from many competing media companies and a home appliance store sells multiple vendors and lines of product. How often have you lost out on a deal due to the fact that you didn’t understand your competition? Have you ever decided to hold firm when you should have lowered your price? Odds are you could have won the business if you would have understood your competition and their low ball sales tactics. Have you ever won business because you knew your competition? Knowing who you are competing with can be the difference between winning and losing the business.
Understanding your competition also keeps you in touch with your customers. While you sit across from your customers and conduct business, your knowledge of the marketplace and the players involved can gain you credibility points. Understanding how someone will sell or work against you will also gain you a level ahead when it comes time to finalize a deal. If you customer calls you seeking a referral for a competing company then you also can help point them in the right, or wrong direction pending who you know. You may understand the competition well enough to steer your customer away from working with the non detail oriented sales person or the scattered account manager.
If you haven’t reached out to your competition to introduce yourself I suggest you do so today. You will be shocked at how quickly they will accept your offer to spend time together at lunch or meet for coffee as their curiosity of you may be just as strong. It isn’t important to set an agenda for this meeting or to have any formal plans other than to shake hands, say hello and build some dialogue.
Understanding your competition is also important should you need to hire. Recruiting at your competition can be the easiest and quickest way to land a new hire and one who understands the business. If you know who the star players are at the competition then a few simple phone calls can save you months worth of recruitment time.
It also is important to know the culture at your competition. I find that most industries tend to have the same sort of culture, give or take a few nuances. However, if your competition has a Ping Pong Table, standing Happy Hours, and a basketball court in the basement then you may want to rethink your suit and tie approach five days per week. Culture is the difference between hiring the best talent and if your competition has better culture then you need to re-work yours, or at least consider a new approach.
Build an org chart of your competition to both understand the players, the personalities, and the company as a whole. You’ll save yourself time in the marketplace in conducting business and you’ll hire faster knowing who you need to have on your staff. You also will be able to pick up the phone and learn the market conditions without having to wait until the end of the quarter or year when it may be too late. Having a “friend” in the game is one of the best assets you can have.