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COMPETITION AND MARKET SHARE

Stay Nimble, Be Quick: 3 Tips

Is your business nimble enough to survive the next shift in the global online marketplace?
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In today's global economy small businesses must be nimble. Economic forces can shift like the wind. Competitors can pop up and offer new products and services that undercut the underpinnings of your core offerings. Are you ready?

Fifty years ago the Internet was not even a figment of someone's imagination. Today, it is the great equalizer. Gone are the days when a business would open its doors in one location, gain popularity, and expand geographically into new territories in a natural progression. Today, a business can pop up online overnight and, with the right advertising, establish a global presence almost immediately. That could be you. It could also be your next competitor.

So if you are already in business ask yourself this simple question: Is your business prepared to handle a sudden undercutting of prices by a new competitor? Could you survive if they started cutting into your market share or offering a service that is truly innovative? How would you react? Are you prepared? Is your business nimble enough to rapidly respond to change?

In today's global economy your business must be built to react to the ever shifting environment of the global online marketplace. Here are a few tips to make sure you are ready.

1. Website Control

Do you control the content on your website? Do you rely on a third-party developer? The answer to this question is critical in the modern era of rapidly shifting online deals and content.

Let's say you offer very similar products to one of your competitors and you know that price point is a major consideration for your target consumers. One morning you wake up and the phones in your call center have stopped ringing. You shrug it off as a slow day. A second day passes with no return of the missing customers. By now you know something is afoot. You check your website. It's functioning fine. You check your phone lines. They work too. Finally you decide to search online using your keywords and discover an ominous reality: A few days ago your competitor slashed his prices. That explains the drop in business.

Assuming you decide to match the price drop could you? How long would it take? Do you have enough control over your site to make the changes yourself? If not, how soon can your web designer get on the amendments?

Before this next shift you must make sure you have the requisite control of your web presence to react to market fluctuations. If not, you are at risk of enduring a prolonged dearth in business while you work to amend your website and its offerings to meet the new challenge posed by your competitor.

2. Fluid Advertising

But being able to rapidly update your website to changing market conditions is only the first hurdle. In the absence of getting the message out about your new products or services, lower prices are moot. You could have the best services on the market, but if you can't get the word out how are consumers going to know?

If you rely upon organic search results and headers provided in the html of your main web pages this could be problematic. However, if you rely upon pay-per-click advertising making sure that the word gets out is as simple as creating a new advertisement and posting it on the pay-per-click provider's network.

Whatever your means of advertising, it must be fluid to get the word out as soon as possible. Because if you can't get the word out to consumers, how will they know about your new offerings?

3. Competitor Intelligence

Lastly, always keep an eye on your competitors. Any business that wants to stay on top or get to the top of their respective market should be an innovator. And you must always be looking over your should at your competitors.

Why?

It is the best way not to get blindsided by their new offerings and services.

Years ago I worked at a company that actually had a secret division internally referred to as Skunk Works as a tribute to the famed Skunk Works of Lockheed Martin's Advanced Development Programs (ADP) used in connection with secret military research and development. The purpose of this division was to keep an eye on competitors and keep one step ahead of them in the marketplace.

Let's say that the Skunk Works team learned that a competitor would be pitching to one of our clients in the next week or so. Without ever saying why to the client, we would quickly tighten-up our relationship with them to make sure that our relationship was secure.  Perhaps an "extra" set of Washington Redskins tickets would be dropped off at their office a day before the scheduled meeting. A day or so after, we would send out a message, "Hey, we're in the area, can we take you to lunch." We were almost always one step ahead of the competition.

In today's global marketplace the landscape has changed. Most smaller businesses that rely on the Internet cannot implement strategies like those above. But this does not mean you should ignore competitor intelligence completely.

Keep a list of your competitors and stop by their websites once a week to see what they are up to. Set up Google Alerts to monitor online mentions of your competitors. How you monitor will depend on the format of your business. But make sure you routinely seek out and use competitor intelligence to stay ahead of the curve.

Thus, using these three tips you will likely ensure that your business may forecast changes in the market and be able to quickly react to the same.

Last updated: May 30, 2013

MATTHEW SWYERS | Columnist | Founder, The Trademark Company

Matthew Swyers is the founder of The Trademark Company, a Web-based law firm specializing in protecting the trademark rights of small to medium-size businesses. The company is ranked No. 138 on the 2011 Inc. 500.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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