It is Business 101: You have to study the competition.

When most people hear that, they instantly jump to analyzing the competition to see what it is doing wrong, and what business opportunities it is missing.

And that is, indeed, an extremely important thing to do.

Finding places that competitors may have overlooked or that they could be underserving could lead to all kinds of opportunities for you. That creates a twofold win. Not only are you helped, but the competition is hurt.

But when you are studying the people and organizations you are up against, don't forget to look at what the competition is doing right.

For one thing, it had to be doing something right to get into business.

For another, it must be doing at least one thing right to stay in business.

So your competitors cannot be complete dolts.

But there are more reasons than just the fact that they have survived that you want to study them. Let me give you the first six reasons that come to mind.

1. Can you learn from their competitive advantage?  

Are they faster, cheaper, better than you are? What about their approach can you borrow and improve, turning their advantage into your advantage as well? No, you are not going to infringe on patents and service marks. But yes, you can certainly adapt what they are doing to benefit your company.

2. How are they marketing? 

Where is their focus? Who is their typical customer? How do they follow up with potential customers to convert them into actual ones? In short, what are they doing that 1. you haven't thought of and 2. might work for you?

3. What about their sourcing and cost of goods sold? 

Are they getting resources at less cost? Are their component parts better? Do they have better financing arrangements than you do? Are their vendors and consultants better?

4. What about their people? 

Are their employees superior to yours? Why? Is it training? The hiring process? How they are supervised? Motivated? Compensated? Is the competition doing interesting things with its benefit programs or how it promotes? Again, what is it doing right that you could do as well?

5.  How is their image compared with yours? 

By image, I am to referring every single thing that pops up when someone thinks of your company and theirs. Are there places where the competition's image is substantially better than yours? What can you learn from that fact? What can you do about it to spiff up your company's image?

6. What about customer retention? 

Do they seem to have customers for life? What is it about the way they do business that engenders this kind of loyalty?

It is natural to want to disparage the competition. But if that is all you do, you are wasting a huge opportunity.

You want to learn from it as well.