I am a very strong believer in knowing your competitor's product almost as well as you know your own. The only way to do this is to visit their business and look at it from the point of view of a customer. This is an accepted practice. I have had clients who run large supermarkets and once a week they visit the other main supermarkets to see what their competitors are up to. It is all done very openly, as the managers know each other.

The information that this type of activity can produce is very valuable, especially if you can conduct this kind of survey with an open, objective mind. Hopefully we can figure out what we do better than our competitors, or what part of our offer is more appealing - and then market that strongly.

The type of things we want to figure out are:

  • Is their business easier to find than yours?
  • Are they more responsive than your business?
  • Is the business more inviting and visually appealing than yours?
  • How does their range of products compare to yours?
  • How do your prices compare?
  • How quickly do they respond to emails?
  • Or telephone calls?
  • Is their business clean?
  • How are their staff presented?
  • Are the staff friendly and polite?
  • Were there long delays in being served?
  • If you buy online, what is their sales process like?
  • How long did it take for their products and services take to arrive?
  • How well were they packaged?
  • Do they deliver on their promises?

Some of the above topics may not be relevant to your particular business, but I am sure that there are other questions that could be included and that's the point, we need to look deeply for what makes us different.

I always recommend to my clients that they spend time getting to know their competitors before they start to review their own business. We recently developed a marketing strategy for the local operations of a large telecommunications company. The first part of the project entailed visiting all of the other mobile phone shops in the area. There were about 30 in total.

We asked questions and reviewed all aspects of these businesses and identified several major weaknesses of each shop. By addressing these weaknesses, which had to do mainly with poor selling skills and an almost compulsive desire to bombard customers with hundreds of glossy brochures without actually selling them anything, we could tailor-make a winning strategy for our client that helped it to become very successful.

This leads on to the point about setting up a business in a highly competitive field. The only way that this can really be done successfully is by having a very clear understanding of what your competitors are doing. Put simply, it's often a matter of looking at how the other businesses operate and identifying ways to do it better. This principle has made a lot of people a lot of money over the years.

Reviewing what your competitor's business offers will usually highlight that it isn't about price as much as it's about service. It's something we need to do often, not just once every few years. The better you know your competition, the better you will know your own business.