“Anytime you find someone more successful than you are, especially when you’re both engaged in the same business – you know they’re doing something that you aren’t.” - Malcolm X
Business competition can be fierce, especially in fast-moving markets where customers often shop around. Competitors are not always there to pull you down the ladder, but to serve as a dynamic tool to help you evolve as a business, and it can prove to be a constructive teacher to improve your business strategies.
Here are 10 steps you can use to keep ahead of your competition and bolster your competitive intelligence to strengthen your B2B marketing strategy.
Know your customers
Most product marketers know their customers’ purchasing patterns, which is certainly helpful to track. But there is so much more information you can be using to continue refining your marketing plans.
By knowing your customers, you can build a relationship between them and your company, extending the customer lifecycle beyond only a couple of purchases, reducing churn, and boosting customer retention.
Customer expectations can change dramatically, so find out what matters to your customers now - is it lower product price? A more premium service? Product feature updates?
Another great tip is to comb through the comments section in your competitors’ websites and social media pages to get to know their audience better. Here you’ll find golden nuggets of information about your shared audience that can help evolve your own approach.
Know your competition
In order to stand out in your market, you need to know who your competition is and what they are doing vs. what you are doing. And it is most important to begin by examining the marketplace.
First, take a hard look at the things your competitor DOES do and ask yourself:
- Does that company have intimate conversations with customers that lead to conversions?
- Do they have a unique angle to tell their story from?
- Are they providing a solution for customers that you aren’t?
Second, look to see what your competitor DOESN’T do, and then try to fill in that part of the market.
This will help you identify the areas you need to compete in and give you a platform for differentiating yourself.
Knowing your competition like the back of your hand should be a priority and if you don’t know, start learning today.
Learning your competitor’s products and services isn’t about stealing their ideas, but instead knowing what you are up against. It’s important to pay attention to what is working for them – and what isn't. You can gain some insight and ideas of how to improve upon your own product or service by looking at what they provide and how popular it is.
It’s essential to give your customers good reason to come to you rather than a rival. To provide this reason, you first need to know what differentiates you from your competitors. Once you know this, you can use it to your advantage when competing in the market.
This can be achieved by developing a unique selling point (USP) that taps into what your customers really want. It should be clear and obvious - no-one should have to ask what makes you different.
The goal is to offer something that sets you apart and can be seen as better than your competitors in at least one way. Building solid buyer and/or user personas from the outset can help you shape and steer what you want your USPs to be.
Maybe you are cheaper, or you offer more value, or you provide a different service. Either way, you need to have that one thing that sets you apart.
You can also be unique in how you market yourself. You have to be if your product or service is exactly the same as your main competitors. Think about ways to market differently and be innovative in how you communicate with your customers so you can stand out that way as well.
Perfect your marketing strategy
It is not enough in today’s competitive market to have some business cards, pamphlets, and a generic website. You need to develop your online and offline presence in a way that makes you stand out from the crowd. It’s no good just shouting the same things into background noise - you need your voice to be heard over it.
Make more effort to tell people who you are, what you sell, and why they should buy from you. It doesn't have to be expensive – cost-effective promotional ideas include everything from leaflet drops to campaigns on social media.
Target new markets
When you have one market locked down, selling into new markets can increase your customer base and spread your risk. This is important in learning how to handle competition in business as new markets can lead to faster and better growth.
You should ask: Are there other potential customers similar to your existing target market? Could you reach a wider audience by selling online or overseas? Make sure you tailor your offer to each different market segment.
This idea goes hand-in-hand with finding something unique about yourself. If there isn’t anything unique in your offerings or abilities, look for an underserved group. The old saying, “the riches are in the niches” applies here. Find something people need and be that. Starbucks didn’t invent coffee but it did brand a lifestyle and coffee-house experience into that cup.
To find these target markets, you need to analyze your customer data to determine the typical demographic information of your audience, their geographical location, their spending habits, and other relevant patterns.
For a marketing campaign to thrive, it needs to be strategic and highly focused. Hone in on a specific target market for each of your core services or product niches, and develop strategies that cater to each niche individually.
Look after your existing customers
The customer is king! As product marketers, we know that but how many of us really create strong processes around it?
New markets are exciting to enter, and when your company is ready, new markets can lead to a big payoff. However, don’t forget the customers who are already loyal to your company, as they are your competitors' target market. They might have become brand advocates but now the work is in keeping it that way.
To begin with, use customer feedback surveys to gather this information. Learn how your competitors offer to support their customers and weigh yourself accordingly to discover the scope of improvement. Customer support and satisfaction is the door to a profitable business as it helps businesses win their customer trust and maintain loyal relationships.
One option you have to continue supporting existing customers is product development. Introduce new or better products to existing markets. Continue development on your existing products, like your bestsellers, in order to renew your commitment to current customers to the best of your abilities. Through product development, you can expect to outperform competitors and keep your customers happy.
Find and solve customers' pain points
One likely way to beat your competition is to address the needs of your shared target audience better than your competition can. Ask open-ended questions to find exactly what your customers want while using your products or services.
Certain trigger questions that identify pain points may be especially effective to ask your customers.
These questions include:
- What is your company's biggest obstacle to growth?
- What is your biggest personal obstacle?
- What matters the most to your supervisor?
- Which tasks occupy most of your time?
- What are your complaints?
- What might account for any recent business or customer losses?
After you identify a customer's pain points, you can attempt to solve them by discussing their issues using terminology that they use themselves. Once you have a clear picture of the issue, the next step is to ascertain who at their company can solve those pain points and who is authorized to purchase your products and services.
Explore partnership opportunities
For businesses, partnership opportunities are very popular right now. Most businesses are reaching out to others in the hopes of tapping into a new market or demographic.
These symbiotic relationships help both partners by providing some sort of opportunity that was not otherwise attainable. When considering partnerships, think of what your company needs to succeed more and then act on that opportunity.
Starbucks has partnered with Earthwatch since 2001. One of the goals of this partnership was to introduce Starbucks employees to the scientific research behind coffee beans – benefitting Earthwatch’s goals. Additionally, Starbucks was able to increase employee engagement through this partnership.
This partnership helped Starbucks develop its ethical approach to coffee while assisting Earthwatch in spreading sustainable and scientific practices.
Set competitive pricing
One of the easiest ways to beat your competition is to offer more affordable pricing.
To determine the ideal price point, you need a clear picture of what your competition's goods or services are priced at. Research which competitors offer the best value. Then you need to determine if what you are offering brings more value to the table and thus should be priced higher.
However, if beating your competition is your primary pricing concern, opt for a competition-based pricing strategy. Using this strategy, you ignore product costs and consumer demand. Instead, you focus on the existing market rate for your products or services. You then set your price to fall within the range of prices that your competitors offer.
The best pricing strategy isn't always about lowering your prices. Since the market is segmented by lower, middle, and upper-tiered customers, you need to figure out which group your audience is and price from there.
Never stop learning
If you build knowledge into everything you do, you will always be one step ahead of your competitor. Most companies are lazy - they don’t view staff training as an asset, they view staff training as an expense, and as a result, are often reluctant to spend on building the brainpower of the business.
Training is a strategic competition weapon. Treat it as such.
Now remember, whatever you do, winning in business doesn’t mean copying your competition, it means being better than them. You know you’re winning when you’re not looking back at what your competitors do, but your competitors are copying and trying to be more like you, and that’s how you beat the competition by knowing your customers.