Tag Archives: customer

Competitive Lens

12 Most Basic Strategies to Know Your Competition

[Originally posted on 12Most.com] We live in a world where competition is part of the fabric of life. Survival of the fittest, and all that stuff. The business world is no different. Being about to not only know your competition, but to outsmart them, is just another aspect of the game.

Here are some relatively basic steps you can take to win the competition game. Are they a bit difficult to pull off? Some of them. But if you can get your hands around even a few, you’ll find yourself in a better competitive position:

1. Know yourself better than anybody else
If you really want to evaluate your competition, you have to first understand what YOU have to offer. This will help you define WHO your competition is. If you do this right — and look at your core competencies, you might find that your ultimate competition isn’t exactly who you think it is.

2. Execute your business first
Going back to point 1, if your business isn’t being executed to its fullest, you may like to think that you are competing against top-tier companies, but the reality is that you may be competing against the middle of the pack, and trying to best “the best” is simply never going to work.

3. Listen to their financial calls
You’d be amazed at the information that comes out of financial calls from public companies. And no, you don’t need to be a financial analyst to participate. Sure, you can read about their call the next day, but short of being in the room with them, listening can give you a sense of excitement or tension that you might not get in print.

4. Read voraciously
From public SEC filings to blogs to articles (and even support forums), the amount of information out there that can prove valuable is immense. How are they perceived? What are their customers openly complaining about? Where is YOUR opportunity?

5. Talk to their customers
If you are not talking to your competition’s customers, you might as well pretend you’re in a business that has no competition. Not only can you gain a good bit of information about your competition, but also about their sales cycles, new products that have been promised — even who their sales reps are (rep churn is very valuable information). Who knows, you may even land a customer yourself.

6. Follow their customers on social media
Customers say the most amazing things on social media. Sure, some of it may be slightly anonymous, or a bit questionable. But when you see a trend of #FAIL hashtags at the end of messages about a competitor’s new product, it’s probably worth looking into. And please, don’t just stop there. Some clever searching can reveal a great bit of information about former customers as well (and open up new prospects at the same time).

7. Talk to (or follow) their suppliers
By our very nature, we tend to look forward — to be customer focused. But what about the people supplying product to your competitors? Did they have a good quarter? Did they have a bad quarter? Could it be that their shipment levels (or margins) are tied to your competitor? Absolutely.

8. Follow their employees on social media
Gaining insight into customer sentiment is incredibly valuable. But gaining insight in employee sentiment is even better. When a social media user’s profile states “I work for XYZ Corp, but my posts are my own”, remember that is usually not the case. People talk, and they talk about work. How busy they are, how late they had to stay at work, how high/low their job satisfaction level is… get my point?

9. Visit Q&A sites
With sites like Focus.com, Quora.com, G+ (no, not the Google version) and LinkedIn Answers, it is becoming increasingly easy to find out what questions users are asking about your competitors products, and the type of responses they are getting to their questions. Are they asking about how to configure a product (perhaps a sign of poor technical support)? Are they asking for alternative products (displeasure with their existing product)? Or are they asking the best places to buy a competitor’s product (a sign of positive sentiment)?

10. Listen to their corporate or customer support social feeds
You’d be surprised how much information you can gather my monitoring a company’s “support” feed on Twitter or Facebook (and soon Google+). Sure, they try to move the customer support issues offline as quickly as possible, but there is still enough activity to gain some insight (and social media is fast becoming a way to quickly spot trends in advance of mainstream awareness).

11. Understand their/your market
In a world where change is now measured in days or months, not years or decades, keeping apace of emerging market trends is just as important as understanding your competition and their products/services. Learn to anticipate what changes will disrupt their (or potentially your) business and be aggressive/proactive. Don’t let them dictate your move, rather seek to influence theirs!

12. Buy one of their products
Unless you are talking about a product made from unobtainium (or a service), it is probably worth getting your hands on one of their products. Buy it used. Buy it damaged. Just get it, and figure out how it works and what it is really capable of performing. You’d be surprised how often that slick-looking data sheet doesn’t quite match up to the real deal. And even if the product is a year old, it can still yield some interesting insights into their design process. To be fair, I’m not advocating you break or even bend any laws or copy any intellectual property (be very careful here – designers should be locked in a different room!). But nothing beats actually having something in front of you to figure out how it works and how you can sell against it.

So there you have it — just a few ways that you can get a leg up on your competition. But remember, it all starts with items 1 and 2 — getting your house in order first.

Featured image courtesy of claudiaveja via Creative Commons.


Customer Service Leadership? Press 1 for Yes…

It started with a single, simple, question put to me by a good friend:  “What are the key qualities needed to be a leader in customer service?”  There are, of course, a great number of existing text books, essays, blogs, etc. that address  “best practices” in customer service, so answering the question with an easy answer was, well, easy. Too easy.  So, as I often do, I stepped back and took a look at the question in its true context.

The question was an outgrowth of the merging of a continuing series of conversations that I’ve been involved in regarding both business leadership and customer service. As I began considering the question in the context of these two somewhat independent discussions, a single point began to crystalize in my mind:  Good customer service – industry leading customer service – involves all aspects of a company. It’s not just a customer service issue by itself, it’s a mindset or business ideal that is shared by all aspects of a company.

“Great Customer Service is a corporate mindset, not a job description”

Looking at it from a different perspective, leadership in customer service can be thought of as a trait of companies that have strong corporate leadership – leadership that values a high level of customer-centric focus, strong business ethics, team empowerment and corporate-wide cooperation.  I’ll emphasis the last point in particular, because customer service is but one single piece in what I’ll call the customer cycle – the series of events and processes that exist in most successful companies.

With this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of traits of companies that I consider to have outstanding customer service – those companies that are not only leaders in customer service, but influence the business and customer service models of their competitors and the industry.

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT: Leaders in customer service include their prospective customers in the development process, helping to refine both product features and availability/pricing.

A great product idea is only a winner if it is high quality, addresses a customer need at the right time, in the right place and at the right price point (think of how many products failed because they were either ahead of their time or late to market – ditto products that didn’t fit the value/dollar realities of the market at that particular time).

CUSTOMER ACQUISITION: Leaders in customer service don’t just sell a product, they sell the value of the entire company, including customer service.

Contrast two competing vendors with exactly the same product at the same price and the same quality. The vendor that introduces the prospective customer to their client service organization – or their specific customer service representative – will win the business every time.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: Leaders in customer service place value in, and empower, their customer service representatives.

Employees in the customer service organization are representatives of the firm, not “agents” as they are often tagged. As such, they represent the company and are often the most important (and in many cases the only) person that an actual end user will interact with. Representatives who are empowered have the ability to follow guidelines, not scripts. They can escalate when they feel necessary. They listen to what the customer has to say and in turn, they are listened to by their corporate management, and the knowledge they gain from their customer interactions aren’t just mined, they are sought out and encouraged on a personal level (and then fed back to product development, marketing and sales teams).

Leaders in customer service also recognize that each customer is different, and their needs are different. In turn, they offer a variety of means for a customer to receive support and assistance, including every social media venue where their customers are active (both listening and in two-way communications). They also provide different levels of support, allowing a customer to choose as little or as much personal contact as they require.

CUSTOMER RETENTION: Leaders in customer service recognize that great customer service leads to great customer retention, and great customer retention leads to great customer advocacy.

The value of retaining a customer can never be underestimated – especially if you listen to them, learn from them and adapt your products to their changing needs. I remember the days when we would set up “VIP” user groups, get everybody together once a year at a major conference and tell them how much we appreciated them.

“Customers who are partners are also part of your sales team”

With social media, leading companies are encouraging the creation of online user communities that are open to all and discussion, praise and dissent are encouraged and shared. Customers that feel you are a partner are much more likely to offer advice and suggestions to products, rather than look for alternatives. In turn, they become your best customer advocates, influencing others to consider your product through their own product loyalty and satisfaction shared in these open (not just for customer) forums.


These are just some of my thoughts on the characteristics of companies that are leaders in customer service. I believe that if they have these characteristics, while they may not be the largest vendor in their market, they are most likely the most influencial and will ultimately rise through the market-share ranks.

Are there other characteristics or “must have” items for a top-notch customer service organization? Absolutely. Let me know what you think some of those are – I’d love to hear your opinion on what qualities are needed to be a leader in customer service.