Three Clever Ways to Know the Competition Better

What is the secret to success in business? That’s easy! It’s how well you know the competition.

Alright, maybe this is a slightly over-simplified perspective, but it always surprises me how many companies work with a primarily internal focus.

I have written many posts about knowing your customers, such as “Why Customers Are The Answer To All Your Problems (If You Ask the Right Questions).” Watching and listening to them in order to fully understand their rational needs and emotional desires is a great – and free! – way to start.

But today I would like to speak about doing exactly the same thing for your competitors. If you are going to succeed in attracting their customers away from their products and services, then it would make sense to know them as well as you do your own.

Here’s a simple three-step process to do so. 

 

Encourage employees to use competitive products & services

Know the competition better by trying their products and services.In most organisations today, using competitive products is still frowned upon; after all, we make the best don’t we, so why use those of other companies?

However to challenge and beat the competition you have to intimately know what you are up against. Regular contact with competitive products will encourage your employees to evaluate your own offering. They will also be encouraged to suggest competitors’ strengths and weaknesses that were perhaps not evident before. It will also ensure that you are rapidly aware of any improvements made by the competition. You won’t get left behind and find yourself suffering from declining sales due to competitive improvements of which you are unaware.

This intimacy with competitors’ products and customers should be requested of employees at all levels, by being one of their annual objectives. Of course, in some industries this might not be possible, due to the selective nature of the product or service, but certainly for most consumer products and service companies, this can easily be done on a regular basis.

Now encouraging people to use competitive products is easy to say, but you should also be prepared to invest in it, by paying for your employees to experience them. It would be unfair, and would certainly be resented, if your people had to spend their own money to make such experiences. This knowledge gathering should be seen as an investment by your organisation, of at least equal value to offering your employees discounts on your own products and services.

Why don’t you start a similar process and add these experiences to everyone’s annual objectives? It’s a great way, and a free one at that, to know the competition better than you do today.

 

Make a Library of Competitive Products and Material

KNow your competition better by sharing what you knowIn one of my previous positions, the company had an incredible competitive library. This included every single competitive product that was available from all around the world, classified by country and organised by segment.

Everyone found this library extremely useful, especially when discussing such topics as shelf impact, packaging or in trying to understand our competitor’s portfolio strategy. Continue Reading

How Well do you Know your Customers? Can you Answer these 12 Questions?

How well do you know your target customers? I mean really know them? Are they men, women, young, old, Fortune 100 companies, local businesses? If you can at least answer that, then you have the basics, but how much more could you know about them? Can you answer the following twelve questions?

I was recently working with a local service company who was looking for help with their online presence. They were keen to get more active on social media and had asked for advice about the best platforms, optimal frequency of publishing and possible content ideas.

C3Centricity how well you know your customers

However they were in for a surprise. Rather than getting straight onto the “sexy” topic of social media, I started by taking them through the basics of target customer identification. Lucky for them that I did! When we had finished the exercise, we had found five different targets for them to target, rather than the mere two they had been addressing until now. This clearly would have a huge impact on the where, what and how they communicated online.

These are the twelve questions that enabled us to brainstorm, identify and then complete a better and more complete description of their target customers. Their use also resulted in clear differentiated segments for their services – three more than they had originally thought!

How would you like to double your own market potential? Read on:

  1. WHO DEMOGRAPHICS: OK this is usually a “no-brainer” and is how most organisations describe their customers. Not really original and definitely not competitive, but still the essential foundation.
  2. WHAT THEY USE: Whether you are offering a product or service, you need to know what your customers are using today. And not only for your category, but in adjacent categories too. What do they use – if anything – if your product / category is not available?
  3. WHAT THEY CONSUME: Here we need to underst and what types of information and media they are consuming; what do they read, watch, listen to in their spare time. Which social media do they use, what websites do they consult on a regular basis?
  4. WHAT THEY DO: How do your customers spend their time? What type of lifestyle do they have? What are their hobbies? What do they do all day, and in the evening and at weekends?
  5. WHAT THEY BUY: This is where you describe their current category purchasing habits. How frequently and what quantity do they buy? Do they have regular buying habits? Do they do research before buying or repurchasing? Do they compare and if so how, where, why?
  6. WHERE THEY USE: Is the category consumed in home, in work, on vacation? With friends, with their partner, their children, with colleagues? Are there certain surroundings more conducive to consumption? What makes it so?
  7. WHERE THEY BUY: Do your target customers have certain places and times they buy? Is it an habitual or impulse purchase? Is it seasonal?
  8. WHERE THEY CONSUME: Today “consume” covers not just traditional media but new media as well.
Continue Reading

Which of these 10 Customer Centricity Steps are you Missing?

Last Saturday was the start of Summer in the Northern hemisphere and the weather certainly confirms this, at least for now! Summer is a great time to reflect on the progress we have made to date on our journey to Customer Centricity.

Organisations need to take a step back occasionally and review how their plans are going. What changes do they need to make to ensure they meet their objectives over the remaining six months of the year? So here are my ten ways to tell if you are well on your way to becoming truly customer centric – and what actions you can take to get further along your journey.

#1. Identify the category in which you are competing

This may sound strange to you, but many br ands are not competing in the category in which they first thought they were. Think soup which is now a meal replacement, or laptops which are now entertainment platforms.

Action: Review how your product or service fits into the customers’ daily life and how they compare and decide between options. This will help you identify your real competitors and the actual category in which you are competing.

#2. Underst and your primary target

Knowing precisely who the customer is for each of your br ands is the first essential step to satisfying them. Use the BCG Matrix to help select the best group. Do you already work with this matrix, or do you have a better system? Please share your own best practice below, so I can learn.

Boston Matrix for improved customer centricity  and segmentation evaluationAction: Review the target audience for each of your br ands and ensure you have information on their “4Ws”. In other words the Who, What, Where and Why: demographics, purchase, usage, media use, places of purchase, consumption, connections to communications, their values, usage motivations and emotions when doing so. If you would like to learn more about targeting, check out this post.

#3. Watch and listen to your customers

Personal experience of your customers is essential to putting them at the heart of your business.

Action: Ensure everyone has regular – ideally monthly – contact with the customer. This can be by listening in at the call centre, watching market research interviews & discussions, or observing customers as they shop and use your product / service.

#4. Know what current trends could mean for your business

Many organisations follow trends, but they don’t provide any competitive advantage. It’s time you started turning them into future scenarios or use future prototyping. (Contact us here to learn more about this)

Action: Identify the most relevant trends for your br and and then project them into the future to develop two axes of uncertainty and four plausible future worlds. These will help prepare the business for future opportunities and challenges. Alternatively, why not try Sci-Fi Future Prototyping? (Contact us here for more information)

#5. Reinvent your innovation

Most organisations innovate based upon their current knowledge or technical skills. This keeps them boxed into a narrow b and of categories. Continue Reading

The Consumer is No Longer Boss. It’s the Customer who’s now the King!

Next Wednesday is National Boss’s Day in the USA and in honour of the occasion Kathleen Brady of Brady & Associates wrote an article for the New York Daily News suggesting ways to please your Boss. Although not the topic of this post, the article incidentally makes great reading for anyone with a Boss (I think that’s all of us!)

It was P&G’s A.G. Lafley who first coined the phrase “The Consumer is Boss” about 12 years ago and since then marketing has been trying to please the consumer. It was also around this time that Consumer Packaged Goods companies then started referring to themselves as being consumer centric.

The Rise of the Customer

The below chart from Google Trends shows the search frequency of “customer” versus “consumer” since around that time. I don’t believe the changes you can see are due to a decreasing interest in consumers but are rather a reflection of the importance that all industries are placing on the people who buy their products and services. Whereas CPG may have started the trend, all industries now underst and the importance of the people that spend their hard earned cash on them. Depending upon the industry you are in, those people might be called consumers, customers or clients and customers has become the name most often used to cover all three.

Google trend of customer & consumer searchesThe Fall of Customer Centricity

Maz Iqbal’s recent post on the CustomerThink website entitled “ The Paradox At The Heart of Customer-Centric Business” challenged the very nature of customer centricity. Whilst his ideas are certainly thought-provoking and perhaps controversial, I do agree that customer centricity alone will not grow a business. However, I personally believe that most organisations have spent most of their existence thinking more about all the other areas of the business and less about the people that actually make their businesses viable, their customers.

The Customer is now the Boss

Whilst this still continues to be the case in many organisations – unfortunately – and taking inspiration from Brady’s article, I thought I would share my own thoughts on what we can do to better please our Customers / Bosses.

#1. Make sure everything we do is ABCD: We shouldn’t be satisfied with our customers’ satisfaction! We need to go Above and Beyond the Call of Duty when trying to please them. We should surprise and delight them whenever we can, responding not only to their articulated needs, but also their unarticulated and even unimagined needs.

Look at Apple who regularly proposes technologies that their customers didn’t even know they needed and which surprisingly quickly become an essential part of their lives. They underst and their customers so well that they even know what they (we) will want in the future.

#2. Underst and what they need to know: According to a recent report by Adobe on what keeps marketers up at night, the number one issue is reaching their customers.

top-concerns-large-adobe-2013 autoimprovedIf we really underst and our customers, we will know how to reach them, where and when they are ready to hear what we have to say. Continue Reading

The shocking truth about managing data: it’s simple!

There is so much talk about information and Big Data these days, every organisation is feeling swamped by the belief that they should be doing more with their data.

From gathering more, to analysing more, and developing more insights about their customers, they are also afraid that their competition is doing more. If this is your situation, then this post will provide the answers you need.

Organisations have always collected information about their customers; it’s nothing new. Whether this is through conducting market research studies, or simply from obtaining details when customers buy something, there is already a lot you can do today to manage your data. However, there is an even bigger opportunity to get a better underst anding of your customers and their needs and desires, when you integrate all the information sources you already have at your disposal. This is why there is so much news about Big Data these days. For all of you that have been shocked into inaction by all this talk, here are some simple ideas that you can use to start your own journey to managing your data, whether Big or Small:

 

#1. Make your information more visible

You are certainly already collecting a lot of data, both internal and external, but it is probably only the former that is shared today; sales, distribution, targets, budgets, plans and forecasts are the most common examples of this. How are all these numbers shared across your organisation? Why not develop a simple dashboard showing the most important numbers?

Using comparisons to competitors, indices and trends are generally the most useful way to provide a quick overview of business, into which viewers can then dig deeper, depending upon their area of interest. You don’t need to show it all on the dashboard, and you shouldn’t try, just keep the summary to the KPI’s that are most relevant for everyone to know.

For more on how to choose your KPI’s see here.

 

#2 Make your information more available

You already have many sources of information, but who has access to it? If you are like most companies, it is the department that collects the data that analyses and uses it, and other departments rarely know of its existence, let alone get to see it. Why not develop a library in which you can store all the information and insights that are gathered and developed, and then give everyone access to it?

This library can be as simple as a folder in a shared file, an Excel folder, an Access database, or a more sophisticated system that can manage budgets, projects and suppliers, as well as the storage of the processes and reports. Some organisations are afraid of doing this for fear of information getting into the h ands of their competitors, but access rights today are easy to manage so that you can significantly reduce such a risk.

You can find more information on knowledge sharing here.

 

#3. Make your information more actionable

Much of the information that companies gather is backward looking, coming from sales and distribution that have already happened or your customers’ consumption and usage habits of last week, last month or last year. Continue Reading

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