Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:
Close your eyes for a minute. Okay, wait, if you do that you won’t be able to read the rest of this blog post….
Pretend you’ve closed your eyes for a moment. Imagine what it would be like if a competitor was to open up tomorrow, right on your doorstep. And not just any competitor, but your worst nightmare: a highly-profitable, customer-attracting, market-share-dominating growth machine that seems to be perfectly managed and never puts a foot wrong.
Shuddering yet? Brace yourself, and let’s look this monster squarely in the eye.
As you answer the questions below about your ‘perfect competitor’, you may want a notebook (electronic or otherwise) by your side:
1. What are they doing that you don’t?
What is it about this new arrival that makes them so attractive to your customers, clients, users or supporters? What is your perfect competitor doing that you aren’t?
More precisely, what management or marketing strategies are they using that you’re not? Is their pricing structure different? Or their cost structure?
Are they delivering added value to customers in a way you’re not (yet)? If so, what is it?
What about their marketing channels, their sales practices, their distribution or installation - whatever core function your organization performs – how are they performing it differently from you - and why is the market liking it so much?
2. What are they not doing, that you are?
When you conjure up your perfect competitor, and watch how they go to market, are they freed from any legacy activities, habits, attitudes or other liabilities that are holding you back?
When, in your imagination, you see how they build their organization, do you feel trapped by existing product lines, service offerings, geographical locations or other commitments that you have made but you wish you could get out of?
Do you wince when you think about any of your existing supply chain agreements or internal policies or procedures you wish you could be free of? What holdover culture, people or practices do you see them blissfully free from?
And most importantly, what are you going to do about it?
3. Who do they employ?
Let your imagination drift into your perfect competitor’s premises. Roam their corridors, offices, showrooms, factory floor, labs. Visualize sitting in on some Zoom meetings – wherever their people are, imagine you are there, too.
What does their workforce look like? What’s their demographic? What skills, and just as importantly, what attitudes do they have?
As you float around in your disembodied state, take a sense of the morale and level of engagement you see – does it differ from yours, and if so, how?
Do you and they fish in the same pool for high-quality new recruits, or are they fishing somewhere else altogether?
How many of your people have they poached? Have they raided your workforce for top performers, or have they passed them by to go elsewhere?
4. What does the top team look like?
While we’re floating around your perfect competitor’s premises, let’s take a left turn just there… at the end of this corridor.
See the group socially distanced around that conference table, with a few more on screens around the walls? That’s their top team, ensconced in what looks to be a weekly meeting.
What are they discussing? How are they interacting? Look over someone’s shoulder and take a glance at the agenda – what sort of topics are included there? How is your perfect competitor's senior leadership team managing their organization, compared to how you manage yours?
Are they focussing on the truly important, or merely the urgent? How good are they at effectively and efficiently making high-quailty team based decisions?
This being your worst nightmare, what skills, attitudes or processes do their top team bring to senior management that your team is missing?
5. What do their customers say about them?
Let’s assume that your perfect competitor has been around for a while – it’s time to go out and poll their highly-satisfied customers and clients.
What sort of things do they say about their experience? What words and phrases do they use? What specific aspects of their interaction with your perfect competitor do they mention most? What surprised and pleased them beyond their expectations?
Be as specific as possible – write down the exact terms you imagine your perfect competitor’s very happy clients use when describing their experience.
How does it compare to your existing customer feedback? What words and phrases do your customers also use about you, and which are mostly absent?
It’s wake-up time.
As I’m sure has become clear, this isn’t really your perfect nightmare – or at least, it doesn’t have to be.
Take a look at the answers you jotted down to the questions above: How much of a gap is there between your organization and that of your imagined perfect competitor?
How readily can you bridge that gap?
What if you were to prioritize the four or five most important distinctions between you and your perfect competitor, and turn that list into a strategic plan to become your own ‘worst nightmare’?
One way or another, someday that perfect competitor will appear on your doorstep, just like in the dream. Wouldn’t it be better if that perfect competitor was you?
What did you realize that you need to change in your organization during the thought exercise above? Let me know in the comments below.