published by the Nashville Business Journal
Staying ahead of the competition is a full-time job for most everyone in business. Leaders continually check rivals’ new products, technologies, processes, marketing and a whole lot more. There are many different methods for learning about the competition: observation, reading, site visits, professional associations, trade shows and personnel interviews.
In the retail world it is common to spend time analyzing item selection and pricing in print advertisements from other companies. This may have some value, but it’s really more of an exercise of looking in the rearview mirror. I call this followership. Staying current on your competitors’ developments is important, but if that is all you do to keep your business current you are really following—not leading.
To be truly creative and innovative in offering new and improved products and services you must not just watch what others are doing, but engage proactively on the ground level by “getting inside the minds” of your customer. It’s essential to understand the culture of your customers and their current unmet demands. But it’s even more important to anticipate their future needs. A few other thoughts about staying ahead:
A culture of innovation is a key building block to winning the competitive race. Your culture should scream, “We can change and improve everything, and we can get it done yesterday!” When outsiders describe your culture with the phrase “never satisfied,” you are on the right path.
Brainstorming can lead to real breakthroughs. Gather your mavericks, challenge them, get lost and watch them put forth real innovative ideas. Inspire them to think like customers, as customers will be in the future. Many of their bright ideas won’t work but some will, and there might just be a true breakthrough in the mix.
Listening to customers with a passion is essential to clear understanding of both their current and future needs. Employees who have the most customer contact can yield great information for the company. At Tractor Supply we listen in a variety of ways: regular store visits, internal advisory boards, occasional customer focus groups, and even visits with customers at their home or property.
Test, test, test every possible new idea. If you have a 10 percent success rate on new ideas and you test 10 ideas, you have one success—just one. But if you test 100 new ideas at a 10 percent success rate you achieve 10 successes. The math is simple: The more you test the more success you achieve, and the more successes you have the further ahead of your competitor you will be.
Celebrate ideas and improvements at every possible opportunity. If you reward a great breakthrough to further support a culture of innovation you will see more breakthroughs. The more credit your organization places on fresh ideas that really work the more fresh ideas you will find in your pipeline.
The formula for outfoxing the competition is simple: Primary focus on your competition = follower. Primary on your customer = leader.