Imagine a competitor opened its doors tomorrow, right on your doorstep. And not just any competitor, but your worst nightmare: a highly-profitable, customer-attracting, market-share-dominating growth machine that seems to be perfectly managed and never puts a foot wrong.

Shuddering yet? Brace yourself, and let's look the monster in the eye.

This fear can be used to better your own company. How? Take a closer look at that 'perfect competitor', and answer these questions (you may want to do this with a pen and paper by your side):

1. What is this competitor doing that you are not?

What is it about this company that makes them so attractive to your customers and clients? More precisely, what management or marketing strategies are its leaders using that you're not? 

Is its pricing structure different? Or its cost structure? Is your competitor delivering added value to customers in a way you're not (yet)? What about its marketing channels and  sales practices? 

2. What is this competitor not doing, that you are?

Now reverse the picture - what (negative) things are you doing that your competitor is not?

Do you feel trapped by any of your existing product lines, service offerings or geographical locations? Have you made supply chain commitments that you wish you could get out of? Do you wince when you think about internal policies or procedures that seemed sensible in the past, but which you change now, if only you had the time? Take a good look at what you wish you could change.

3. Who does the company employ?

Your competition's workforce can tell you much about what makes the company tick. What's the demographic? Take a sense of the morale and level of engagement. Does it differ from yours, and if so, how?

Are you all fishing in the same pool for high-quality new recruits, or is your competitor fishing somewhere else altogether? How many of your people has this company poached? Has it raided your workforce for top performers, or has it passed them by to go elsewhere? 

4. What does the top team look like?

Imagine this competitor's top team at their weekly meeting. What are they discussing? How are they interacting? Look over someone's shoulder and take a glance at the agenda - what sort of things are included there? How is your perfect competitor managing the business, compared to how you manage yours? 

5. What do customers say about the company?

Let's assume that your perfect competitor has been in business for a while. It's time to go out and poll its highly-satisfied customers and clients. What sort of things do they say about their experience? What words and phrases do they use? What specific aspects of their interaction with your perfect competitor do they mention most? What surprised and pleased them beyond their expectations? 

It's wake-up time.

Take a look at the answers you jotted down to the questions above: How much of a gap is there between your business and that of your imagined perfect competitor? How readily can you bridge that gap? What if you were to prioritize the four or five most important distinctions between you and your perfect competitor, and turn that list into a strategic plan to become your own 'worst nightmare'?

Someday that perfect competitor may appear on your doorstep, just like in the dream. Wouldn't it be better if that perfect competitor was you?

Published on: May 4, 2012
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.