Are You Setting the Competitive Bar Too Low?

I was meeting with a friend and colleague of mine, someone I have known for years who I had some nice past business wins and was hoping to do business with him again. We were talking about sales training and the importance of it throughout his organization. I was glad to hear what he was saying because that’s what I was selling.

At some point, he commented on how pleased he was that his team had created a number of product videos his dealers and reps could use to improve their close rate. This is where things started getting interesting.

I told him having video is smart because too many organizations are still relying only on the written word for their product training. And in today’s world…no one reads. I then asked, “Out of all the videos in the library what’s your most popular one?” He thought about it for a minute and shrugged his shoulders. I asked, “Do you happen to know the top five or ten being used?”

“Chuck,” he said, “I can’t tell you sitting right here if any of them are being used or what ones are most popular. But I can tell you something, our competitor doesn’t even have video.”

Understanding your competitive set is critical in business. It’s foolish to think you can even run a business without a solid understanding of the marketplace. But can your focus be too limiting?

The example I just gave you is something I hear a lot especially in my world – B2B sales. Often a company will be focused to the point of obsession with its competitor. But are they missing the bigger picture?

It’s easy to understand how and why this happens – it’s an easy comparison to make, and easy to understand the strengths as well as the weaknesses matching one against the other. But in this world, with the speed of change and the amount of disruption occurring – holding your company up to your competitive set might end up costing you dearly in the long run.

Consider the wreckage that has taken place with the cab industry or the hotel industry. And of course, the video rental industry. For Blockbuster it meant the destruction of their empire. And it took only ten years to go from the king of the hill to bankruptcy. Ten short years!

Am I oversimplifying things to make a point… perhaps. But it’s a point that needs to be made. Each of the above examples didn’t consider or refused to look at the imminent threat that would fundamentally alter their world. Their lens was too narrowly focused on other cab companies, other video chains. They didn’t consider the forces impacting them from outside of their world. And the results… well, they speak for themselves.

The other day I heard an interesting story of a brand manager from AB InBev, one of the largest brewing companies in the world, talking about Bud Light. The manager was not onlyinterested in learning about what other beer companies were doing. The manager was concerned with understanding “share of throat.” In other words, he was focused on any kind of liquid the consumer was drinking as the competition. That’s a lot of territory… but with the changing habits of beer consumption, don’t you think that kind of awareness is needed?

For now, the concept of expanding the view of the competitive landscape is something that has caught on in the B2C world. Yet for many running B2B organizations this notion is still something new. The good news is this could be a big opportunity for growth. Let me give you an example using the situation at the beginning of this post.

A likely scenario to play out is this — the competitive company my friend was referring to could make the decision to invest the resources and produce a series of product videos. They may commit to creating a bigger library or invest in upgrading the production quality and by doing this will gain an incremental advantage in the space.

But the bigger win is the opportunity to reimagine what a new training platform could deliver to the organization. With the huge advancements being made with e-learning and mobile connectivity there seems like an incredible opportunity to fundamentally alter the game vs just focusing or whether to add product videos.

Or ask yourself this…do I equip my sales team with the latest and greatest cell technology to communicate anyplace anywhere anytime or have I provided them a rotary phone with a long phone cord? Well, of course, they have great cell technology and some probably have global plans. See my point? You may not realize how much you are under gunning your customer-facing teams by not providing them elite training and sales tools.

Look, I’ve spent most of my professional career in the B2B space. I know the challenges and the concerns that come with making a big play. I also know this is a unique point in time. The pace of change in the B2B space may not be as fast as it is within the B2C world, but it’s coming and for those that can get on this wave now… they will be glad they did.

So, if you’re still with me, a question you’re probably asking yourself is what are some next steps to take? And that leads me back to the AB InBev brand manager. Making the big leap forward doesn’t begin with comparing yourself to your competitive set. It starts with understanding your customers.

The InBev manager was concerned with “share of throat.” Of course, that will include other brewed beverages…but it will also include waters, sodas, coffees, teas — the list goes on. You see what a difference that can make? In order to lift your organization away from your competitive set, you will need to focus less on your competition and more on your customer. Where they are today… and, more importantly, where they are going in the future.

As Jeff Bezos has said, “If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out all right.” That’s damn good advice.

If you’re interested in learning more about how I can help you break away from your competitive pack, contact me at:

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