Knowing and understanding your competition and your competitive environment is not only a vital part of ensuring you have a solid business strategy … it is also the way in which you can GIVE yourself a competitive advantage.
How? By using your competitors as a point from which you differentiate yourself.
By using them to highlight how YOU are different. And how YOU are a well-suited option for your prospect.
However … knowing how to identify those differences, and more importantly, how to communicate them, is the trickier bit.
Because being the well-suited option for your prospect doesn’t necessarily mean being BETTER than your competition.
And it certainly doesn't need to be about being cheaper – something that people often fall back on as a way of winning business in the face of better-known competitors.
A competitive advantage just needs to be a case of offering a solution that your competitors don't … because no matter how good or well known a competitor is, their product or service is never going to be perfect for everyone.
And THAT is the key.
Gaining a competitive advantage simply needs to be a case of identifying what or who your competitors' solutions are NOT perfect for, and identifying how YOUR solution CAN fit that gap.
The “Easy Way” to Compare Yourself to Your Competition
In all likelihood, you will have competitors who are better known than you, who you will assume to have the competitive advantage.
So when a prospect asks, “Why you?”, maybe it’s tempting to give the EASY answer - comparing yourself to those competitors….
Because you're cheaper. Because you're more flexible. Because you're able to offer faster turn-around times. Because you're more personal. Because you “really care about your customers”….
But are these really the things that make you STAND OUT?
Are these the things that really HELP your clients with the problem that made them come looking for you in the first place?
Or are they … or at least some of them … just minimum expectations?!
And are others … such as your cheaper pricing … just you doing yourself a disservice, simply because you're not as well known?
Knowing there are better-known competitors, and believing them to have the competitive advantage, it’s tempting to be defensive….
“They're expensive” … ”They've become complacent” … “They don't really care about you.”
But again … does criticising your competitors highlight YOUR strengths and skills and solutions?
And more to the point … is pointing out the downfall of your competitors the best way to establish a competitive advantage?
No. Firstly, because that response is focused on THEM … not on YOU.
But by criticising your competitors, you're also losing an opportunity to use what's GOOD about them to YOUR advantage.
And this is where another approach comes in. One in which you celebrate their strengths, and use that to highlight your differences.
An Alternative Approach to Defining Your Competitive Advantage
If you have competitors who are better known than you, the chances are, it is because they have a GOOD product or service.
They may indeed have a few downfalls that could be pointed out, but at the end of the day, there is still likely to be a lot of good about them.
Focusing on that good presents an approach that is both compelling and highly effective at bringing new clients YOUR way….
First – focus on your competitors' solutions … not the person, or the brand.
Figure out what is USEFUL about their solution, what they do WELL, what it is that has made them so successful.
And THEN identify what those solutions are NOT perfect for … identify the ways in which their solutions might not be exactly what ALL clients need.…
And then identify how YOUR solution can fit that gap perfectly.
Because nothing is perfect for everyone. Every client and customer has a slightly different need … a slightly different problem … a slightly different preference.
And when your prospect's problem, or need, or preference, falls within that gap – you've got the competitive advantage over your competitor.
Because you're different.
Not better, or cheaper, or “nicer” … just different.
And different in exactly the way that your prospect needs.
A Competitive Advantage Over The Big-Guns
Let's take one of the most well-known brands … or products … in the world – the Victorinox Swiss Army Knife.
There's no doubt about it, this is a great product. And for clients who want 30-odd mini-tools in their pocket, ready to help them tackle any kind of unexpected eventuality, this is a pretty perfect choice.
You, however, are “just” a corkscrew. So you think you can't possibly compete with the Swiss Army Knife.
But, if you've ever tried to use the corkscrew on a Swiss Army Knife to open a bottle of wine, you'll know that it's good as a last resort, but far from the ideal tool for the job….
Which means that for anyone needing a corkscrew – and only a corkscrew – YOU are the perfect solution.
It doesn't matter that you don't have 30-odd other tools attached to your corkscrew, because YOUR clients don't need those other tools. They only need the corkscrew, and you are able to provide them a corkscrew that works better … that's easier to use … that “does the job perfectly”, AND that is just as small and easy to carry as a Swiss Army Knife.
And maybe you can even offer a few other tools. Maybe you can offer a corkscrew that also has a small knife, or scissors, or screwdriver … or whatever YOUR prospects most need.
All of which are slightly more tailored, slightly easier to use, slightly better at their specific job than those on the Swiss Army Knife. Because – with less tools in total, there is more space available to dedicate to each individual one.
So … you can celebrate your competitors' good points – because they exist, and they're real!
And then, you can USE those strengths to point out the imperfections of their solutions … and help YOUR prospects realise that this imperfection matters for THEIR problem.
The Swiss Army Knife is a brilliant tool for adventurers wanting to be ready for anything. They'll have 30-odd tools in their pocket, after all!
But 30-odd tools that fit in your pocket also means each of those tools are useful when in a bind, but they're not the best version of that tool you'd be able to find.
So for people that don't need to be ready for 30-odd different eventualities … for people that just want something that will easily open a bottle of wine … or just provide them with a specific few “more effective and user-friendly” tools … YOUR solution is the better one for THEM.
Your competitive advantage has been gained … and in a way that celebrates the strengths of others, avoids needing to compete on pricing, and makes you stand out for what YOU do best: for YOUR solution.
And once you've figured out where your competitive advantage lies, it's easier to focus on building an audience that needs your solution … on optimising your productivity through the 80/20 rule… on nailing your ability to handle objections. It helps you define all kinds of other business strategies that will lead to your success. And maybe even lead to you becoming the better-known competitor….