"I'm concerned about what
my competition may be doing. I know I should be aware of what they're doing,
but I'm not sure how I can find that out."
This is an issue that's
growing in importance. Our industry is heating up and becoming more competitive.
All around us things are changing at an ever-increasing rate. That means that
it's more important than ever for you to be aware of what your competitors are
doing so that you don't get blindsided or seriously outmaneuvered.
That happened to me. To
this day, I still get a sick feeling in my stomach as I remember the day when
I lost my largest account to my arch competitor. It was an account that made
up 20% of my total volume. In my blissful ignorance, I was content to grow my
business by calling on the end users and purchasing department, while my competition
was successfully building a relationship with the administration. The result?
My best account signed a prime vendor, sole-source agreement with my competitor,
and within 60 days, I was almost totally out of that account. I was totally
That's a lesson that sticks
with me, and one from which you can learn. To become good at knowing what your
competition is up to, begin by thinking of yourself a little differently. If
you've read my book (How To Excel at Distributor Sales), you know that I believe
that distributor salespeople must see themselves as "managers of information"
as well as "sellers of stuff." To be effective in the Information Age economy,
you must become adapt at collecting, storing and using good information. The
knowledge of what your competition is doing is one such piece of information.
Begin by consciously collecting
little bits and pieces of information at every opportunity. For example, you
may have lost a bid or a particular piece of business to your competitors. Rather
then just moping about it, use it as a learning opportunity. Try to find out
from your customer why they awarded the business the way they did. If it was
price alone, try to find out how much lower their price was. If it's something
else, find out what. That information won't help for that particular piece of
business, but it may give you an insight into the pricing policies of your competition.
Write the information down on a 3 X 5 card, or piece of scrap paper.
Take your good customers
to lunch, and casually see if you can steer the conversation in such a way as
to learn something about your competition.
Keep your eyes open to
the coming and going of competitive salesmen. Note when you see them, and in
Subtly probe the manufacturer
reps you work with. See if they can't give you some insight into the strategies
and tactics they've seen. Be sensitive and aware of competitive literature,
business cards and price quotes lying around. And don't forget to talk with
the other salespeople who work for your company to get their insights.
All these are ways to collect
bits and pieces of information. By themselves, they won't help much. But, if
you combine these bits and pieces, you may very well see trends, uncover strategies,
and discover tactics your competition is using. As you collect each bit of information,
capture it by writing it down, and putting the note in a manila folder marked
"competition." If you're automated, type the information into your computer,
and store it in either a word processing or database file.
Regardless, what you're
doing is assembling a quantity of information. Diligently collect those bits
and piece of information, and file them away. After you collected a quantity
of these, you'll be able to open that file on a regular basis, consider all
the pieces on information, and discover a great deal about your competitors.
The trick is to consistently
collect and store information. Eventually you'll assemble an accurate picture.
It's like the popular game show "Wheel of Fortune." When Vanna White turns over
one letter, it doesn't give you much of a picture of what the total answer is.
But after she's turned over several of theses small individual pieces, the whole
becomes clear and the answer to the riddle is simple to understand. That's the
way collecting information about your competition works.
The back of an old business
card on which you noted that your you saw a competitive salesperson showing
a new carbide line, by itself, doesn't mean much. But if you filed that along
with all the bits and pieces of information you've collected, and then pulled
it all out and analyzed it, you might see an entirely different situation. Suppose
you reviewed that business card note, and combined it with the note you made
to yourself that you saw some sales literature on the competitive carbide line
on the desk of one of your purchasing agents, and then saw that you lost a major
bid to the competition because he quoted a new line at lower that traditional
prices. All at once you've uncovered a potential treat to your business. Clearly,
your competitor is pushing a new, lower price carbide line. You didn't learn
that from any one piece of information, but rather from the combination of all
those pieces, considered as a whole.
The key to uncovering that
information, to discovering what your competition is up to, is to consistently
collect pieces of information, store them, and then analyze them as a whole
from time to time.
Some of the best companies
I deal with do that, and take it to one layer deeper. They meet from time to
time in sales meetings, and share the information each individual salesperson
has collected. The sum of all the information collected by the entire sales
force is bigger and greater then that of any one person. So, the composite information,
collected by the entire salesforce and assembled and analyzed by the sales manager,
gives the company an insightful picture of the competition.
Keep in mind, as a distributor
salesperson in the Information Age, you're a dealer in information as well as
a seller of stuff. Seriously address the process of systematically collecting,
storing, and analyzing information, and you'll gain incredible insights into