Ask yourself are you paddling or floating your canoe down the river of your business life? If you’re floating then you’re on the defense, if you’re paddling then you’re on the offense – where do you want to be?
In today’s business climate if you’re not on the offensive then you’re being whipped and buffeted from every side by the obstacles you encounter. If something isn’t working in your advertising and you’re a floater then you just wait until next week, or next month and see if it improves. But if you’re paddling and guiding your business, then you’re busy working out how to fix what’s not working.
Take for instance that big boulder in the river known as “competitive intelligence”, which refers to the knowledge needed to implement successful competitive strategies. If you haven’t got a handle on this it can spell disaster to your business. Let’s look at an example of what I mean.
Suppose you find out that a competitor has dropped the price on a product competing directly with your business’ highest gross margin item. Before you drop your price to match, ask yourself whether this could affect your ability to compete. If the answer is “yes”, you should do a bit of sleuthing to answer some key questions like:
- Is the price cut an unequivocal comparison, or have certain features/services been modified?
- Is the price drop sufficient to overcome customer inertia to change?
- Does the competitor have the capacity to handle increased demand without damaging customer satisfaction?
- Is the price change restricted to one territory or account, or is it across-the-board?
Effective strategy covers product design, branding, services, and a host of other variables that, in total, comprise your competitive edge.
Protecting your edge requires a real-time stream of knowledge about the changing competitive landscape. The most significant fund of ongoing information, on an ongoing basis is your sales force.
Salespeople have the most direct contact with customers, and have customer feedback on the competition which is both real and perceived. However, their job is to sell, so it’s important that you make them aware of their importance and involvement in gathering competitive intelligence.
For the successful collecting of information from the sales force, you must prove to them and their sales managers that the process is of value to them. This means you have some homework to do which is gathering information that is already available internally. Look at and analyze call reports, won-lost reports, and sales records for red flags and trends. A competitive move in one territory may seem insignificant until added to information from other territories, or as part of a global rollout strategy.
Augment these finding with public data from published sources and industry analysts, and you can offer your sales force tips on competing more successfully. By initiating the information sharing process, you will encourage reciprocity on the part of sales once they see what’s in it for them.
In addition to the sales force, people from other functions in your firm are often repositories of useful competitor information. Accounting, procurement, HR, and other functions attend professional meetings with competitor counterparts and may have bits and pieces of the competitive landscape puzzle. Do they know how important this data is, and have you motivated them to share it?
This is but one little corner of your business life, but unless you’re on the offense – paddling instead of floating – you’ll lose your edge and be left in the dust by your competitors. Personally, I’d rather be paddling my little heart out instead of being tossed by whatever winds blow my way.