Execute a Strategy to Beat Your Competitors

a couple of men running across a race track

When tough times hit (and they will), small businesses need to execute a strategy that will see them stave off their competitors. This is the second element of the Your Ultimate Business Survival Guide.

It’s your ability to look at what your competition does, improve on what they offer and position yourself in the marketplace as the ‘go-to’ people that will enable you to continue to grow your business, even when facing disaster.

While it might seem insensitive, small business needs to be viewed as a military operation and your competitors are the targets you need to take down in order to win.

This then doesn’t have to become a game of hate and malice directed toward your competitors but having a strategy in place that helps you grow your business and stifles their success is paramount to yours.

So pull on your army greens and get out your night vision binoculars, you’re going into battle.

Here’s how to execute a strategy to beat your competitors.

Know your competitors

While this might seem like an obvious statement, how well do you actually know your competitors?

If your analysis consisted of a quick scroll through their website and social media and you called that ‘ research’ you’re falling short of what you need to do. But, you’re not alone.

In an interview with MarketingDonut, Stephen Phillips, CEO of ZappiStore and chief happiness officer at market research agency Tonic, stated that “competitor intelligence is something few firms do well, whether big or small. People tend not to do it.”

If a market research group is prepared to say that, then I would suggest they have the data to prove most small businesses are falling short of a detailed understanding of their competitors and what they do.

You need to start compiling all the information on them that you can. Dig a little deeper into their website and opt-in to any materials they have to download or sign-up to. This will give you direct communication from them and you’ll see how they market themselves.

But go further than this and ask people you trust in your industry (including your customers) how they view your competitors. Don’t be vindictive about it, but get a sense from your marketplace on things like:

  • How easy they are to deal with
  • Whether they listen to their customers
  • What products or services do customers buy from them
  • Do customers think their pricing is fair

The more evidence of your competitors you can get, the better. Interestingly, if your competitors are a listed company, most will have an investor section on their website. This is rich with information you need to know, like their strategy and potential new products or services.

The first step to seeing off your competition is knowing who they are.

Learn from your customers

Knowing your customers and listening to them are two different things. Often small businesses confuse the two.

Your customer’s needs and wants can change quickly – particularly in a crisis – and you must remain on top of what they require from you.

When times are good and a customer needs what you offer, selling should be a rinse and repeat process. You know it works, so do they and they want it. But when the situation changes and your customers are struggling to survive, what you offer might start looking like a cash-burning nicety, not a necessity.

So, you must always remain in close conversation with your customers (the good ones, the not as friendly ones and the ugly ones). The more honesty you can have in your conversations with them, the better and more informed you’ll be to deal with what they actually need at any given time (solving their problems is not a stab in the dark on your end).

To learn from your customers do things like:

  • Send out regular feedback surveys (ask questions about your operation, products and services and their happiness in what you do for them)
  • Choose a few customers that you really trust and shout them a coffee to drill down on what they need at a deeper level
  • Ask your customers what ideas they have that you could apply in what you do
  • Do a site visit to a customer’s location and see how your products or services are used firsthand within their business

The more people you have on your side in battle is an advantage. That’s your customers, so listen to them and learn from what they say.

Review your SWOT analysis

A Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (or SWOT) analysis is not a new concept, but it’s often one that’s produced at the start of a businesses’ journey and forgotten about.

When massive change happens in your industry, reviewing this document (if you’ve kept adding to it) will present new opportunities. I mean just look at the acronym, it’s in the name.

In business, an opportunity is a chance to do something positive to help you grow, build your brand and capitalise on a situation. Like nothing else, an opportunity has made entrepreneurs successful and will continue to do so.

A smart business owner will spend time forecasting and making educated assessments on what the future of their industry will look like and make decisions on what the role of their business will be in it.

This is a surefire way to ensure what you do remains relevant and viable long term.

When looking for new (or emerging) opportunities, consider things like:

  • Is the state of your marketplace growing, failing, migrating or transitioning?
  • What other industries do you cross over that you can provide a solution to?
  • Can you build your footprint in other cities, states or countries?
  • What do respected research bodies say about the future of your industry?

There are two ways to look at a dire situation. One is to view it as doom and gloom. The other is to see it as an opportunity.

You know who succeeds out of the two.

Have a solution that satisfies your marketplace

Now that you know what your competitors are doing, your customers have been honest with you (and given you some useful ideas) and what opportunities are available to you, it’s time to respond.

A battle will never be won without action.

When a curveball is thrown at your marketplace (like COVID-19), these three previous steps will see you armed with everything needed to implement a solution that benefits your customers (and the customers of your competitors).

Chances are this means you have to identify a new product or service and introduce it to market quickly. In circumstances like this, done is better than perfect and that’s true of a new product or service launch.

Customers will be forgiving in difficult times to minor imperfections in your offer as long as it helps them survive too.

It was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that Stageking, a pop-up stage making company, pivoted at the onset of COVID-19 towards designing, manufacturing and selling stand-up desks and other isolation office furniture.

According to the article, Stageking founder Jeremy Fleming said,

“The company has a large computer cutter (a CNC Router), and the people to use it, we also now have entire companies, no, industries having to work from home in isolation. So we have decided to produce work-from-home desks.”

This is a great example of using a skillset and experience to offer a solution that satisfies a marketplace.

Your Ultimate Business Survival requires you to execute a strategy to beat your competitors. This can only happen if you:

  • Know your competition and what they offer (and how it’s sold)
  • Learn from your customers (who are the ones that buy your goods)
  • Seek out new opportunities to remain relevant when times get tough
  • Pivot and provide a solution that your marketplace needs

These four steps are the difference in growing your business, where others are dwindling in uncertain times.

In my next blog, I’ll be writing about the third step to the Your Ultimate Business Survival Guide, remaining financially viable.