How to get closer to the competition and understand what they are doing to their customers.
There’s a famous line from The Godfather, Part II. Robert Corleone tries to find a “traitor” and speaks the words, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” While many people believe the quote was originally for the film, the actual line and concept go back thousands of years when Sun Zhu, the ancient philosopher, wrote about it in his book The Art of War.
Applying the line to business, it has a similar meaning, but goes like this:
Keep your customers close and your competitors closer.
I wrote about this concept in one of my books, Amaze Every Customer Every Time. As a business owner and owner, it is important to understand the competition. What do you do differently – and maybe better? In other words, why would a customer do business with them and not you? Understanding this is an incredible asset.
I had the opportunity to connect with Steven Clayton, CEO and founder of the small business marketing SaaS company NetBlaze. It offered five ways to get closer to the competition and understand what they are doing to their customers. The secret is to follow them on social media. It’s amazing what “intelligence” you can gather about your competitors from their social media posts. So here are his ideas, followed by my comments.
1. Stay up to date with the latest news from your competitor: This is an easy one. Just follow them on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, etc. What are their latest announcements, new products and how are their customers reacting to them? And instead of just following and reading, get proactive and create Google Alerts with their company names as well as their key executives. You can see where they are mentioned on other websites, publications, etc.
2. Understand your competitor’s marketing game plan strategy: Start with a look at their website. You will see how they position themselves, what words they use to describe what they do, and how they advertise their features and benefits. You can even see customer testimonials and see what customers are saying about them. And read and study their blog posts. Of course, you should also keep an eye on the social channels mentioned in number one above for even more information.
3. Get a feel for your competitor’s online persona: As you study the websites and social media channels, you will get to know the online personality – as in the picture – that you want to portray to your customers. Clayton says, “Examine the tone used with customers in their communications and responses.” This is how you get to know the competitor’s “personality”.
4. Learn from your competitor’s dissatisfied customers: So far, our first three tips have focused on figuring out what the competitor is doing that could take your business away from you. Here we learn why your customers can leave you. Keep an eye on any review pages or forums that the competitor’s customers may be commenting on. As you watch for negative comments, also watch how they treat their angry customers. You can learn many good and bad things about dealing with angry and / or disappointed customers.
5. Gather inspiration from the competition: Use the ideas to spark creativity as you develop and build your competitor intelligence. Don’t copy your competition. Learn from them and do something different. While you want to know your every move, don’t just copy what you are learning. Make it your own. If you just copy, you’ll be just like them. Then you run the risk of becoming a commodity where price sensitivity can be the only difference between you and them.
Regardless of the type of business you are, the size of the business, the industry, and whether you are B2B or B2C, you have competitors. Knowing your marketing strategies and understanding how they react to their customers’ comments (good and bad) and how they show up on public forums and social media can give you an incredible advantage.