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Taking a Gun to a Knife Fight: How Right Competitive Solutions and Messaging Win More Business

by Valery Satterwhite

posted in Business

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Unless you live in a vacuum then your business will have competitors. There may be just a few, there may be many, but chances are you want to beat them. It's a dog eat dog world out there and you've got to fight hard to survive, stay ahead of the game, keep your nose in front and every other business related cliché you can think of. In short, bouncing the competition off the walls is part of your business DNA.
The equation is simple: Beat the competition = Get more customers = Achieve more success.
The trouble is, particularly in the world of business, nothing is quite that simple.
Competition actually encourages you to take your eye off the ball and spending too much time outwitting your rivals can simply be a waste of valuable time. Acme Solutions on the other side of town might be filching customers with a similar product to yours but that's not the issue. It's not even the problem.
The problem is that you've forgotten to ask what your market actually wants.
What is Competition?
Who competes for your customers? If you run a restaurant then you might think it is the Chinese down the road or the McDonald's at the local mall. Yes, they're in the same business as you, they're providing cooked food and the promise of a good time in much the same way as your humble little eatery.
But they're not the only competition. There are threats to your business everywhere.
There's the bar next door and the grocery store next to that to name just two.
Wait? A grocery store? Blue Apron Gourmet meals are a direct competition to your restaurant. Your customer, who was previously going to visit your restaurant spots a nice recipe in store and decides to stay in for their meal. That, my friend, is competition. That pre-cooked, ready wrapped gourmet meal is vying for a piece of your market.
Other competition can include supermarkets and corner stores. It can even include the local movie house - hey, hun, do you want to eat or go see that film tonight. Anything that diverts customers away from your restaurant is a competitor. Hell, even a sick kid when your customer is about to head out for a date is a competitor.
Competition is widespread and often nefarious. It is not always what you think it is. To your market it is any product or service that solves the same problem even if it's completely different type of solution.
Competition is Good
Yes. On the whole, competition is good. It creates choice, it helps you to improve your particular part of the pie and it leads to innovation. Without competitors you'd have to come up with your own solutions rather than stealing theirs. These illusory people and corporations actually justify your existence - you're not the only person in the world who thinks this product is useful. Competition is good. Competition is GREAT!
Your competition can give you a proven roadmap to success. How?
Examine your top five successful competitors. Do a Google search on each of their names and look at the links to all the channel sales and visibility partners they've leveraged over the years to build awareness and drive revenue. Chances are many of these same channels are good opportunities for your business as well. Examine how and where they market themselves.
For example, it's one thing to know they are reaching their market through social networks such as Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. It's another to study what, specifically, they are doing on those platforms to successfully engage with their audience. If your competitors have a newsletter, opt-in and have a look at how they reach out to their customers. Study how email marketing deepens their relationship and credibility within the target market.
Staying Ahead by a Nose isn't Enough
Many businesses fall into the trap of trying to stay ahead of the competition. The shop across the road offers a three for two deal so you go one better and start putting out a buy one get one free offer. They provide a complementary cup with their ground coffee, you decide you've got to give away a cafetiere with each pack. The law firm next door decides to provide free consultations, you think it's an appropriate time to start running a legal surgery in your local park.
You spend so much time keeping up with the competition that you stop thinking about what your customer actually wants. You lose focus. And that's bad.
Forget Sticking Plaster Solutions
Let's get this out of the way straight away: Your competition is irrelevant.
If you are spending much of your time trying to stay small increments ahead of your nearest rival then you are a) going to be fighting for your business life every minute of every day, b) you are not going to succeed, and c) you a probably going to end up in an early grave.
Your market is important. Your market is the only thing that is important and you need to get away from this misconception that beating the competition makes your stronger. It doesn't. Beating the competition is akin to sticking a band aid on an axe wound.
Digging Deep for the Whole Solution
Your product or service will sell if you provide what your market wants. You provide a solution to their problem. That's why people buy stuff. That's why they want your product. Is it good enough? Could it be better? The answer to that lies in finding out the cost of the problem - whether that is financial, emotional or even physical - and then uncovering the solution. To do this, you need to drill deep into what your potential customers think. You need to go beyond the bland surveys that many market research organizations opt for without thinking.
Let's say that your competitors have a sticking plaster solution to a recurring problem that your market has had to suffer for the last umpteen years. How do you think your market would like a more sustainable solution - one that actually works? What difference do you think it would make to their business?
Kicking away the competition and drilling more deeply into the market problem takes time and effort. It's why many businesses just stick to the time honoured process of beating Geoff or Mabel down the road. It's easier. That's all. It may not lead to success but at least you're all fighting with the same weapons. There's literally no one bringing a gun to the local knife fight.
This is what separates the true entrepreneurs from the wannabe business leaders. They work hard to peel away the layers of a particular problem, constantly asking that childish WHY, continuing until they have the workable solution within reach. Your market represents the ready-made expert who knows everything about the problem, they know how it affects them and they know what a solution should look like, even if they haven't got a solid product yet.
Your job as an entrepreneur is to forensically pull it apart and come up with the innovative solution that literally blows the competition out of the water. Let's face it, if you've come up with the perfect solution to your market's problem who needs to make the effort to stay ahead of the competition? You will have what your market both wants and needs.
About the Author: Most startups struggle and fail. Valery specializes in the success of fast growing startup businesses. She helps startup entrepreneurs get, keep and grow customers and excite investors. Startup entrepreneurs and founders. avoid the big and costly mistakes that derail a lot of startups, even those with great ideas. For more information please visit
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