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Tops 3 Tips to Stay Ahead of Your Competition

Following on from my post last week discussing how important it is for businesses to ensure they don’t lose focus on their external environment – in particular, their ever-evolving customers and their competitors – this week, I’d like to speak a bit more about the latter, keeping an eye on (and staying ahead of) your competitors.

As mentioned in my last article, this is not at all to say that improving your internal processes and operations isn’t important to sustain a large organisation, it’s that it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the bigger a business gets the more they focus internally rather than externally for growth – which I honestly think is all wrong. I referred to this last week as ‘organisational narcissism’ – basically, the organisation becomes self-obsessed and far too confident of their position in the market – a dangerous place to be.

My main argument was that staying focused on your customer and keeping ahead of your competitors through constant innovation and improvement is a better way to maintain your market position and sustain your margins in increasingly competitive marketplaces than focusing on internal improvement alone.

Last week I explored three ways to better understand your customers and this week I’m going to cover three ways to better understand – and stay ahead of – your competition. Not only knowing who they are and what they’re doing, but more importantly, determining what they’re doing better and how your customers feel about their brand, products and services against yours.

So what are my top three tips for keeping on top of the market – and staying ahead? I really like the thinking of Kim and Mauborgne around “making your competition irrelevant” and their Blue Ocean Strateagy, so a lot of what they have to say I’m totally aligned with. However, competition is never irrelevant in the real world, and actually keeping an eye on your competition and constantly evolving and innovating (see: doing things BETTER) is really the underlying point underneath all of their books, tools and methods.

So, what are my top three tips to stay ahead of your competition? 1) don’t get overconfident, 2) stay agile and 3) allow your unique selling point (USP) to evolve – welcome change and roll with it.

Don’t get over confident

If you take away only one point from this article, this should be the one you take away. As your business grows and becomes more and more successful, don’t ever allow yourself to get over confident or to feel too secure in your place in the market – avoid organisational narcissism!

Always keep an eye on the market around you and what changes your competitors are making. I mean, it’s obvious, isn’t it? If your competitor is changing something, or introducing new products or services, it’s highly likely they are doing so because they’ve identified a need for that new product or service. If there’s a need and this new innovation is in keeping with what you offer, then why aren’t you doing it?

Even more important than keeping an eye on your identified competitors in your market, don’t ever forget to keep an eye on the newcomers. Newcomers into the market are of particular importance as they’ve already done the work to fully investigate all of the top players in the industry and likely found gaps in the market where they believe they’ve improved upon what you already offer. Find out what that is, and make sure you offer it as well – or better yet, improve on what they’ve added – just make sure you do it quickly. Once your customers switch to a new brand or supplier, it will be much harder to get them back.

Stay agile

So you know how I said the first point was enough to walk away with? Well, not really. Remember this one, too. If you’re going to invest time and energy in tracking the moves of your competitors, make sure that effort and resource doesn’t go to waste by moving quickly with changes and getting to market as as quickly as humanly (or organisationally) possible.

It goes without saying that the bigger an organisation gets the slower it seems to get as it’s bogged down with overly complex processes and multiple streams of decision makers with their own priorities and agendas. This is the norm, but if you want your business to survive long term, you have to try to avoid this with all of your might. Strive to be a big business with a start-up culture. If you want to stay ahead in your market, you have to stay agile. If you’re too slow to change, you’ll never keep up. That’s a fact.

Flatter organisational structures are key to staying agile as well as collaborative working and open communication. It’s amazing how many fantastic ideas for improvement and innovation are lost and never carried forward because they were lost on an email thread and never passed to the right people. Businesses which adopt open forums for ideas and collaboration are less likely to lose these ideas and more likely to turn them into projects that can actually be implemented. Online tools like Basecamp and Jira are fantastic for this kind of collaboration – and they also allow you to turn the ideas into projects, assign to-do’s and openly communicate as a group to make things happen.

Allow your unique selling point (USP) to evolve

Lastly, it’s an obvious point (but I’ll say it anyway) that a USP is only a USP so long as it remains unique. As soon as your competitors can offer the exact same thing, it’s no longer unique.  This is where Kim and Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean thinking I mentioned above comes back into play. Essentially, you need to find your niche and what you deliver that adds value which creates a new ‘blue ocean’ as your competitors aren’t doing it yet. Like any market, however, your niche won’t be niche for long, and as competitors copy what you’re doing, your blue ocean will become increasingly ‘red’ as competitors enter and fight it out for their market share. But this won’t matter, because you’re following points 1 and 2, so you’re already working towards your next innovation, leaving the competition behind yet again.

Rinse, and repeat.

Obviously these three tips only scratch the surface, but as simple and straightforward as they seem, it’s surprising how many large organisations (and growing ones) don’t cover these basics and find themselves over confident, slow moving beasts heading towards bankruptcy. Don’t let your business get there. These tips paired with a customer focus will not only help you sustain your position in your market long term, they’ll also make you a desirable employer by shifting your culture and values and decreasing organisational frustrations. Happy employees = happy business = happy customers. There’s my maths lesson for the day.

Like what you’ve read and want to learn more about how we can help you gain a leg up in your market? Contact us now for a no-obligation consultation. We’d love to discuss what you’re up to now and work together to help you reach your business goals.

Creator and co-founder of Ecrubox Digital, MBA student at Warwick University and mum of three.