Keep Your Customers Close and Your Competition Even Closer!
Savvy consumers have broader shopping channels, more information sources and infinite “noise” out there cluttering the “choice pathways.” The ever-changing technology which allows companies to fiercely compete with one and other for greatest share in this same marketplace has narrowed the field for small business, making it truly essential to know your competition.
Why care about your competition?
To achieve success in business you must both understand your audience (and the marketplace they live in) as well as your competitors. It may seem obvious, but knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your competition allows for fine-tuning of your own offerings as well as refined targeting of your customer base.
To better understand what you are up against you can conduct a little research. Market research will not only assist in knowledge gain regarding your “rivals,” but also provide greater insight into the marketplace as a whole, and the audience you are trying to reach.
Review the strengths and weaknesses of your competition and compare them against your own. Capitalize on those weaknesses of your opposition, and offer something unique, beyond expectation and for less (it doesn’t have to be cheaper, but provide a better solution, greater quality or increased customer service.)
Conducting the Research- The best way to approach this fact-finding process:
Try desktop research first. The quickest and easiest way to assemble a bigger picture about the marketplace is to collect information already available on the World Wide Web. Make use of everything from the latest US Census, to sales flyers and promotional materials of other companies doing what you do. Don’t be afraid to peruse social media channels for comments and reviews from both your competition and your own company.
Next engage a team to conduct a “good old-fashioned survey”. The key to understanding the likes, wants and needs of your audience is to ask them. Surveying can be done in person at time of service, via email or social media link, through printed mail, or even follow-up telephone calls. Allow customers to provide honest answers to help improve what you offer and avoid the pitfalls that are holding back your competitors.
Shop your competition both in person and virtually. It’s the best way to get the full picture of response time, pre and post-sale service, price-point and overall experience.
Statistics prove that repetitive exposure to a product (or brand, company or even idea) will eventually result in recognition of said entity. While that doesn’t mean an instant sale or guaranteed new customer, it does support the need to continuously promote your company. Keeping visible through repeated and frequent marketing is one of the top ways to compete with your small business competition. Social media has made this process even easier and more affordable.
Don’t overlook “grassroots” methods of getting ahead. Remember, your professional network can, and should, be your largest source of referral business. Put in the time to grow and foster those relationships. Whether you participate in networking groups and events, volunteer with a local non-profit or belong to a civic group making a difference – GET INVOLVED!
Stay up on technology. Having the most appropriate equipment for running your operations is necessary. Offering current methods of interacting with and consuming your products is preferred. If all else needs to wait based on budgetary constraints, prioritize for an updated web and social media presence.
Keeping true to your mission & brand
During your start-up you likely incorporated a mission statement into your business plan. If it was truly a mission that you live by, and the underlying driver to your company’s growth and evolution, you refer to it – daily. If you have strayed away from your mission, it is time to review and/or revise.
The appeal of most small businesses is their ability to stay loyal to their primary customer by providing a consistent and reliable product or service. Keep true to your mission or brand at its heart, basing new offerings and innovative products on the same consistency of service, quality and value that has allowed your growth to this point.