No competition does not exist!

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“We have no competition”

I can’t tell you how many times I hear this.  But I can tell you what I tell everyone every time I do.

In an initial meeting with a new client where we were planning our marketing strategy review and I had begun by outlining the plan of attack for the next five weeks. When the topic turned to reviewing the competitors the president and founder smiled and said the phrase that I was half expecting to hear but still hoping not to hear.

“We have no competition” he said smiling broadly.

“Of course your competition. Everybody does.”

He went on to explain that because of what they do and how they do it they don’t have competition. He had looked at other companies that serve similar customers but it was clear to him that they were not the same. We talk back and forth about this and it became increasingly obvious that he didn’t truly understand what competition means.

So I began as I have many times to explain to yet another entrepreneur what competition really is.

Now before I launch into that it’s important to understand where my experience of competition came from. When I started my first business at 18 I realized that I was doing something truly unique and innovative. To me it was obvious and I didn’t know of anyone else who’s doing it certainly not the way I was doing. To me at the time that meant I had no competitors. What wasn’t obvious to me at the time was that just because there is no company doing something that competes with my solution exactly does not mean that there are no competing ideas.

In my first business I was developing new technology to displace all existing methods of doing that function. In today’s Internet of things world I would be creating technology to displace what had been manual processes in the past. But what I didn’t realize was that the ability to do something without your technology is still competition. Even if it’s a manual process, you still are competing with that manual process.

Even if there isn’t a manual version of what your technology does, or you’re not displacing an existing version of a technology with an entirely new approach, you still have to compete against the status quo or do nothing approach. It is this last part that sinks nearly all entrepreneurs that  think there is no competition. It was part of what sunk my first business. I did not have a way to consistently overcome the status quo.

So back to my competition-less client.

I explained to him that there are many levels of competition that you must overcome. First there is the competition for attention in the marketplace. Second there is the competition for mind share and attention in the actual prospect once you reach them. Let’s delve deeper into this.

Competition for Attention

The competition for attention in the marketplace is fierce. Every day we are bombarded with messages. These messages come from online and off-line sources. Offline the ads on radio, TV, Newspapers and magazines all still exist despite the continuous downward spiral in the audience size. Billboards, signs, posters and more are so widely present that they become regularly tuned out by the masses who pass by them.

Online the situation is no better. Extreme volumes of click paid sites with virtually no content flush with ads, banners pop-ups and articles cut into chunks so tiny to increase page views that you spend more time clicking than reading. All of these things compete for attention. When you add in time spent on social media with its barrage of ads it becomes quite clear that the greatest competition in many cases is just for your client’s attention.

So let’s say you managed to grab the attention of your prospect in this noisy world. Now you have to create a lasting memory in the mind of the prospect. And it has to be powerful enough to get them to take action. If getting their attention in the first place was hard this can be almost insurmountable in many cases. If you are selling into a B2B marketplace then your clients are businesses and for the most part most businesses are busy doing what they do. Typically they’re not out looking for new solutions. If your product is really unique or something really different, they may not even be aware that they needed.

So now you not only have to get to them you have to get them to understand, realize the need and take action. And by the way the easiest action to take is to keep doing the things that you’re doing already i.e. don’t change.

As I explained all of this to my new client the smile had faded from his face and was replaced with a look of recognition. He began to realize why they have been having such trouble getting to new customers and making sales.

“So how do we go about solving this?” He asked in a rather hesitant tone.

“It all starts with understanding your customers in great detail and specifically what problem you solve for them. The critical part is identifying the value you bring to them and why they cannot get that same value elsewhere.”

He went on to explain what they believe their value proposition was. As expected most of it focused on the technology and it’s features and functions. He spoke very briefly about some of the results that they had obtained with former clients.

“That is where we start, your Value Proposition and how it is different from your competitors and why customers should pay attention” I continued on to explain that the Value Proposition was the chief tool that not only separates them from competitors but also motivates customers to take action.

Value overcomes competition and inaction better than anything else.

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