If you find yourself regularly fretting about your competition, you’re not alone. According to a study conducted last year by B2B International, 45% of decision-makers and influencers (among 226 companies in the U.S. and Europe) cited “countering the competition” as one of their top business challenges.
What can marketing teams do to compete effectively? Here are three suggestions.
1. Avoid commoditization.
Every company needs to find ways to avoid commoditization. If your product is too easy for another company to produce at a cheaper and faster rate than you, then customers will simply flock to the product with the lowest price.
To avoid this, you need to find your marketing sweet spot. This involves figuring out what offering you’re uniquely qualified to provide. This will help you distinguish yourself in the market (if you’re uniquely qualified, it goes without saying that no one else will be able to duplicate your offering and thus put you on the path to commoditization).
Finding your sweet spot requires marketers to be curious about what customers need. This is much different from fulfilling requests from customers who ask for features, functions, or products without specifying why.
Here’s a good example from Mike Dalton, founder of Guided Innovation Group, on why it pays to be curious:
When he worked in the polymer industry, a pigment chemist once made a request for a polymer with the lowest molecular weight possible. Instead of simply fulfilling the request, they asked about the need behind the request. It turned out the chemist wanted more color from his pigment. To accomplish that, he actually needed an entirely different type of polymer than what he was asking for.
It’s always important to pay attention to customer requests. But rushing to create products or develop features to accommodate them could put you on a dangerous path—one that takes you away from what you’re uniquely qualified to provide. Your job as a marketer is to imagine new worlds for your customers and envision solutions that might never occur to them. Remember that your customers are primarily focused on doing their jobs in the way they always have. They don’t spend a lot of time reinventing ways they can do business. That’s your job.
2. Be aware of what the competition is saying (about themselves and you).
It’s imperative for you to keep an eye on what competitors are saying. Read their content regularly, subscribe to their social channels, and track relevant keywords (company names, product search terms, etc.) via marketing automation or search engine alerts. Obviously you’ll be looking for any potential jabs at your company or offering, as well as any new information about their product releases or shifts in messaging.
The purpose of monitoring the competition’s messaging is to help you better support sales. If there’s a particular aspect of your offering that competing companies hammer you on, your sales team needs to be able to respond in an empowered way rather than sounding defensive.
One way to do this is to help the sales team address the competition’s messaging directly. If you know you can’t go toe-to-toe with another company on functionality, for example, you might need to highlight another aspect (for example, ease of integration) of your offering. This might help the sales team change the buying criteria in a way that favors you over competing companies.
3. Provide your sales team with tools that help them have conversations around value and ROI (not price).
Let’s say your company sells high-performance, concrete flooring. Your top salesperson is in discussions with a company that needs flooring for several refrigerated warehouses where temperatures are kept at 50 degrees below zero.
Now let’s say your competitor enters the scene with a lowball price based on a far substandard material. The prospect figures, no big deal. Concrete is concrete, right? If it cracks, we’ll just repair it. The prospect comes back to you and asks if you can match this price.
This would be a great time for the sales team to come up with an ROI calculation showing the true value of the high-performance floor and how much money it will save in the long run. In this particular case, which comes from a real-world example, the prospect would have incurred a loss of $2 million per day to perform repairs to a floor that would not be well equipped to withstand extremely low temperatures. This was all done without the benefit of a sophisticated ROI calculator, but it was a highly effective strategy.
Staying ahead of the competition takes work. But by differentiating your offering, being proactive in addressing your shortcomings, and quantifying the value of your offering, you can position yourself as the vendor that your competitors are chasing.