Competition, Competitors and Competitive Advantage

Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. Sun Tzu, the Art of War.

I just read Dave Kurlan's article Why You Get Reference Requests. This article is not about his article, nor is it about our relationship. So, go read the article, judge for yourself and believe what you want to believe about Dave and I (or is it "me and Dave?").

Do you have competitors? Are the post office, Fedex and UPS competitors? Are Kimberly-Clark and Proctor & Gamble competitors? How about Disney World and Universal Orlando? How about Disney World and Alta? How about Disney World and you?

I read Inside the Magic Kingdom and wrote an article about it almost 8 years ago. My first point is straight out of that book.

"The competition is anyone the customer compares you with"

I recently tried to upgrade my service with Time Warner Cable at our house in Maine.

  • I waited two hours on 4/26 and they never showed.
  • I called to reschedule and learned that the order and my service had been cancelled.
  • We got that fixed and scheduled for 8 AM on 5/17.
  • On 5/16 I checked the website and didn't see the appointment. So, I called.
  • It had been cancelled. We fixed that and scheduled the installation for between 1 and 2 on 5/17.
  • At 1:45, Time Warner called to tell me that the installer was delayed and wouldn't arrive until 2:45.
  • The installer arrived at 2:30. Was personable. Efficient and sympathetic. (Is he the only person at Time Warner that can do their job?)

Time Warner blew it. They suck! If I could get Verizon, I'd drop Time Warner in a heartbeat. Did I say that they suck? I have Charter in Mass. Even they look good compared to Time Warner. Time Warner people are inept, uncaring, incompetent and without going into detail, dishonest.

If you're my grocer, my mailman, my insurance agent, or anybody else that gives me decent service, you're a freaking hero when compared to Time Warner. By the same token, if you are pitching me, my recent experience with Time Warner is probably gonna make me be extra cautious toward starting a relationship with someone that's yet to be proven.

Bottom line is that that your prospect will compare you to anyone that they choose and that is your competition whether they're in your industry or not.

However, it's more likely that you will be compared with someone that is in your industry, but maybe not a direct competitor. There's a gazillion sales consultants, self proclaimed gurus, bloggers, book authors telling you how to sell better by using their secret recipe. I've mentioned several sales consultant-types at various times (including Dave earlier in this article). You might think that we're competitors, but if you look closely, you'll see differences in what we do and for whom.

But what about head to head, direct competitors? Fuh-gedda-bout-it! They're only head-to-head, direct competitors if your prospect believes that they are and you can't differentiate yourself.

Let me share an example. I didn't write SalesShift. Frank Belzer did and when he wrote it, he and I were in the same industry. I read it. I talked about it and I know that some people bought the book, but still hired me thinking, "Rick didn't write it, but he gets it and can teach it to me." You don't need to write it to get it. so, read your competitors. You might learn something. You might shake your head at it. You might disagree. Regardless, if you bring it up in a conversation with a prospect, don't you appear informed?

Here's another example. What if I did this? I'm talking with a prospect and they're a little standoff-ish. So, I say, "You know, sometimes stuff doesn't go the way we plan. I had an experience with Time Warner recently that's going down in my worst service ever book. Let me ask, what was your worst experience ever with a new vendor?" They tell me. I say, "I bet that changed the way you decided who you do business with? How do you protect yourself after something like that?" Then I shut up and listen to them tell me how I'm going to alleviate all of their fears. Remember, you are being compared with every good experience and every bad experience that they've ever had. Seriously, how do you compare to Pope Francis or President Obama? Your competition is whomever your prospect is comparing you to.

Finally, when you know the competition, it affects you. If you know what your competition is saying, doing, offering, you can tell your prospects about them. You also should feel comfortable and confident in your offering. I usually know which of my 'competitors' a prospect should hire before they do. I know what my 'competitors' claim to be good at and can discuss it with my prospect. The worst thing that you can say is that you have no competition. Denial doesn't make them go away. Remember this? Isn't it easier to accept that your prospect might compare you to anyone and learn how to use transparency to your advantage?

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