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The first of those three important questions is, “who are your biggest competitors?” and the incorrect answer my new clients usually offer is “we don’t have any [external] competitors – we only compete with ourselves.”
Although I can certainly respect the quest for continuous self improvement, I know this answer is wrong because… especially in a business sense, your biggest competition is never only yourself.
Seriously, think about it this way:
1. Personal best doesn’t receive a line on your revenue chart. If you were competing only with yourself, any improvement would indicate success; however, if you go out and write your personal best proposal or give your personal best presentation, that still might not be good enough to “win” the sale for your company.
You may genuinely care about improving your offerings enough that they can speak for themselves; but your offerings don’t stand alone in a vacuum. Even sports known for their individual nature (like golf, gymnastics, swimming, running, etc) compare the scores of one athlete against another. In those sports, when the competition is over, there is a winner and a loser, regardless of how much effort each athlete put into his or her own performance. In business, the company that “wins” gets the sale while the other companies don’t. Recognize that you are in a competition and compete at your highest level.
2. If something happened and your company didn’t exist anymore, your clients wouldn’t immediately close their doors. They would simply find another way to fill their needs. Your competition would help them do this.
Your company may be truly special in that there aren’t any others who do exactly what you do exactly how you do it; but if, for whatever reason, you couldn’t help your clients anymore, someone else would. Even if the other companies weren’t quite as special as yours, your clients would make do. In fact, they may still choose to “make do” with someone else’s offerings because of other factors. Recognize that you aren’t the only option available and show your clients why you are still the best choice (then, appreciate the business you do receive, because they chose you).
Why do I (and should you) care?
As an exhibitor, it is so important to know your competition because trade shows are designed to highlight the options available to attendees. In this setting, your competition is often literally right next door; it’s done that way to offer professionals a convenient way to find the products and services they require without wasting their time and effort searching for the same solutions elsewhere.
Instead, your target audience has an opportunity to take comparison shopping to a whole new level. They can experience your offerings first hand, ask questions of the experts who created them, and then walk just steps away to refresh their memory as to the pros and cons of their next favorite option.
Your ability to communicate intelligently about your offerings as they are compared to others in your industry will either inspire confidence in your contacts and help them to the next step in your buying process or discourage them from working with your company and lead them back to the competition. This begins with correctly identifying your biggest competitors.
What is the right answer? “Companies ABC, XYZ, and KLM” (of course, you would list the actual companies from your industry who also provide the products and services that fulfill the needs of your target audience and rank them according to specific similarities)
Take it a step further… Find your competition on the show floor and identify their main selling points (as they compare to your company and offerings). Keep this information in the back of your mind as you meet with attendees. Using what you know, you can handle objections before they arise, highlight the differences between your offerings and the others available (so your clients can make an informed decision), and watch out for where any misinformation about your company may be coming from.
Also, keep an eye out for any attendees who visit your competitors. If these attendees are considering your competition, they may be interested in learning about your offerings as well. However, don’t forget to complete your thorough qualifying process with these attendees because you can’t truly know if your offerings will be a good fit until you understand their specific needs and interests.
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