Monitoring Your Competitors

June 7, 2013

Along with your business’s customers and employees, competitors are critical people to know and understand. Often, competitors are just thought of as an obstacle in the way of getting more business.

However, competitors can be more than the "enemy." They can:

  1. Help you better understand your current and future markets.
  2. Be a source of additional business.
  3. Be a source of growth through acquisition.
  4. Potentially, provide an exit strategy for you.

Most business owners know their competitors and generally how they compare with the owners' own company. Having a greater understanding of competitors can provide clues for making enhancements to your own company's activities.

Understanding your markets
Market leaders get to be leaders by doing things right. What is it they are doing that is leading to their success? Often, it is not lower prices, but more efficient operations, more innovative products, better customer service or better marketing. By identifying their strengths, you can also identify your weaknesses and begin taking steps to improve in those areas.

Getting competitive information on others in your industry is easy. Visit their web site or walk through their store. Either way, you will probably learn a great deal. If you attend or exhibit at trade shows or conferences, be sure to pick up some competitive materials or talk to their representatives. You learn about the company and you may meet a prospective hire.

If your competitors are publicly held, be sure to review their annual reports. The letter at the beginning of an annual report is often where the CEO projects his/her plans, highlights the company's strengths/ accomplishments and addresses the critical issues facing his/her company.

You can also talk to your customers and prospects about the competition. Getting their insights will give you an idea of why they do business with your company or what it would take to make them a customer. Most customers and prospects will be relatively frank in those types of discussions.

Knowing more about your weak competitors can help you identify the strengths to utilize. You may even be able to identify a specific competitor's customers that would be worthy prospects.

Getting additional business from competitors
The business world is becoming more interconnected every day. Joint ventures are commonplace. The common characteristic of most joint ventures is that both parties receive a benefit. Most companies have strengths in only a few areas and weaknesses in others. Their weaknesses may be capacity limitations, product limitations, financial constraints or something else. If their customers want something they don't have and you do have, it may be beneficial to "share" that customer. Consider working with your competitors on a subcontract or joint venture basis.

Acquiring a competitor or a division of them
Staying abreast of your competitors may enable you to identify if they may wish to sell their business or part of it. Every business goes through an ownership cycle and most owners of successful businesses recognize that ultimately they will sell the business. Without a family member present, the logical sources of buyers are key management employees or competitors (like you).

An exit strategy
When it time for you to consider selling your business, a competitor may be the most logical buyer. They understand the business, probably understand your operation and they can evaluate whether there are economies of scale if they acquire your business.

Summary
Understanding your strongest competitors can identify areas where you can improve and potentially some niches the strong competitors are ignoring. If your business plans expand beyond your current cash flow, contact your Home Federal Business Banker for possible financing options. We are here to help your business succeed.

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