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Your competition may not be who you think…

Take just a moment…right now…and write down the names of your two biggest competitors.

My guess is that if I could look at your list, I would see that you’ve listed other players in your specific industry. You’ve just proven that we stereotypically define our competitors — and that holds the potential of causing us great harm in the future.

As I was doing the background research for one of my earlier books, I found that what customers really wanted didn’t vary much from industry to industry. The reason is because customers blend ALL of their experiences — both personal and professional — as their criteria for evaluating YOUR level of performance.

This means that your competition in regards to how customers view the level of service and engagement you’ve created with them is NOT limited to your specific industry. Your competition is the service they received the time they stayed at a Four Seasons…the shopping experience they have at Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus…the quality of the BMW they took for a test drive.

And, because of that, we often mistake what’s really important to customers.

Let’s say you are in journalism — a hot topic today, given the announcement by Newsweek that after 80-years as a print magazine, they are going to all-digital in the near future. Newsweek’s owners, The Washington Post Company, probably assumes the competition is Time. And, by going all-digital first, they can beat that other newsweekly to the punch.

The challenge is going to be that when it comes to what we view on our iPads or Android phones, the competition isn’t just another magazine. It is, for example, to be compelling enough to get us away from “Angry Birds.” You don’t just have to create something to get me to choose you over CNN.com — to truly be successful, you’ve got to get me to spend my time with you as opposed to “Words With Friends.”

I’ll bet there are few newspaper companies that are thinking that way right now.

Not understanding your competition can be horrifically damaging. Folger’s thought its competition was Chase & Sanborn, and missed out on what Starbucks created. Nokia thought its competition was Motorola, and missed out on how Apple changed the industry.

At a recent session in Amsterdam, I asked a group of executives this question: “If you were going to create a start-up company to compete with you…what would it look like?” We filled a flip chart with really terrific ideas.

Then, I asked them…”So, why aren’t you doing these outstanding points?”

You can guess the answers: “We’ve never done it that way before.” “Our competition isn’t doing it, so why should we?” And on and on.

The good news is…they decided to try.

And, so should you. To become more distinctive and stand out, change how you view your competition.

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More Stories By Scott McKain

Scott McKain is a business leader, bestselling author, and Hall of Fame professional speaker.
Scott's latest book, "The Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails" reached the #1 spot on Amazon.com list of Customer Service Bestsellers! He is the author of two #1 additional business bestsellers (Amazon.com & 800-CEO-READ): "What Customers REALLY Want" (currently available in trade paperback) and "ALL Business is Show Business."
He is the Co-founder and Principal of The Value Added Institute, a think-tank that examines the role of the customer experience in creating significant advances in the level of client loyalty, and has appeared on multiple occasions as a commentator and analyst on FOX News Channel. His platform presentations have run the gamut from the White House lawn with the President in the audience carried live on CNN and NBC's "Today" show...to a remote outpost near the Amazon...all 50 states, seven Canadian provinces...and from Singapore to Sweden...Mexico to Morocco.
An inductee into the Professional Speakers Hall of Fame, he is also a member of "Speakers Roundtable" -- an elite, invitation-only group of twenty of the world's top business speakers.