Your Biggest Competitors Aren’t Who You Think

We’ve probably never met in real life. I don’t know your business. But one thing I do know is that when it comes to your business, you’re probably not aware of the real threats to it.

Let’s say Joe operates a pizza shop in the center of town. He prides himself on the quality of his sauce, his hand-stretched crust, and his savory toppings. He also prides himself in waging a winner-take-all battle with Stan’s Pizzeria around the block.

For years Joe’s competed on price, on customer service, and on food quality. In some years he’s had the upper hand, while Stan has eaten his lunch (or is it pizza?) in others. All in all, the competition has added more than a few gray hairs to Joe’s head and has probably taken a toll on his health and his personal life, especially considering all the long hours he’s put in.

Sadly, Joe’s business has never really grown as much as he had hoped. He had to drop plans to expand to a second location, and now, a few years from retirement, he wonders why he’s still struggling. Unbeknownst to him, Stan is in the same boat.

Fighting ghosts isn’t a fair fight

What’s going on here?

It’s this: Joe and Stan don’t realize that their biggest competitors aren’t guys selling pizza.

Then who are their biggest competitors?

They are everyone else who’s trying to fill the same customer need Joe and Stan are.

And what is that need? In this case it’s quality food, served quickly and available at a reasonable price. (Think about all the options beyond pizza that fit this description.)

Joe and Stan’s other competitor doesn’t have a place at the local strip mall. It’s called doing nothing or eating at home. This competitor is perhaps the toughest competition any business faces, and Joe and Stan have never once considered it. Instead, they’ve competed with each other, with competitors they could see.

Having a come-to-Jesus talk with yourself

Joe and Stan aren’t alone. Many companies, some a lot larger than a pizza parlor, have struggled because of this same lack of vision. What can be done?

First, whatever product or service you sell, think about what need it fills. And then think of other ways your customers and prospects could have that same need met. Think hard. You’ll probably be humbled to realize that you’re not the only game in town when it comes to meeting the need you once thought you were uniquely qualified to fulfill.

Second, talk to customers. You’ll probably be surprised to learn that they have a lot of weird reasons for choosing one option over the other. Despite Joe’s incessant price war with Stan, it turns out customers are choosing one locale over another because of crazy things like whether the bathrooms are clean, whether the ingredients are organic, and whether they can find a parking space if they stop by on their way home from work.

Third, consider why someone wouldn’t do anything about your product or service. In other words, why would a consumer or business owner not want to change? Why would they not want or need what you have to sell? Write those reasons down and start coming up with reasons to change their mind. Phone a friend if needed — or, better, phone a customer and ask them why they bought from you instead of not buying anything at all. Take notes, identify key phrases, and let this data you’re gathering drive what you do next.

A gut check is mandatory for growth

Of course, you probably don’t operate a pizza parlor, but you certainly do operate a business that’s in competition with other companies and Doing Nothing for attention. The question for you today is whether you’ll take that reality to heart and start making some healthy changes.

Are you ready for your business to grow?

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