Like the back of my…

Please complete the following ten sentences about your spouse, partner or significant other:

  1. The first time we met, they wore…
  2. Their favorite flavor of birthday cake is….
  3. The name of the high school they attended is…
  4. If the vacation options were a sandy beach, a snowy mountain or visiting a foreign country, they’d prefer…
  5. When it comes to movies, if a drama, comedy, action, or horror film are the choices, they’d pick the…
  6. Their idea of a feast would have to include the following three foods…
  7. If they could only listen to one musician or band, it would definitely be…
  8. When we go out to a party, the drink they most prefer is…
  9. When we retire, the place they’d most like to live would be…
  10. Their pants size is…

Ok, so maybe the “pants size” one wasn’t fair. How did you do? How many of the answers were you absolutely sure of? After all, they are arguably the closest person to you in your life. Did you get all ten? Really?

I recently led a strategy program with an organization that is the leader in their market. For the dozen senior executives in the room, the average length of industry experience was 23 years. After two days of strategic thinking exercises on the industry, customers, competitors and their organization, one of the main conclusions they arrived at was this: “Coming into the session, we figured we knew everything there is to know about the business. What amazed us the most is how little we really know about the competition.” And this is from a market leader who has performed exceptionally well during the past five years.

As we saw in our significant other quiz, just because we occupy the same physical space doesn’t necessarily mean we know everything we potentially should about our loved one. The same can be said for our competition. Just because we occupy the same market space doesn’t mean we know the critical things about them that can give us an edge with customers.

Right about now, most of you are probably saying, “Well, that may be the case for others, but we sure know our competitors.” Ok, prove it.

  1. What positions in the market do your competitors own in the customers’ mind?
  2. Who will be your top competitors three years from now? Why?
  3. Which of the following indirect competition is having the biggest impact on your profitability: suppliers, substitutes, or the status quo?
  4. What are the top five factors of competition in your market: the places where you invest to win (i.e., sales force, marketing, IT, product innovation, etc.)?
  5. Keeping in mind those top five factors of competition, what is your relative resource allocation (time, people, budget) versus the competition for each factor?
  6. What is the quantitative value your offerings provide to customers relative to that of the competition?
  7. What are the main differences between your core assets and capabilities and those of the competition?
  8. What are the top three reasons you’ve lost business to competitors in the past year?
  9. How are your products/services better than the competition?
  10. Buzzzzzzz. Number 9 was a trick question. There is no “better.” Better is subjective in your head. The real question is: What’s the differentiated value customers perceive between your products/services and the competition?
  11. So how’d you do this time? Don’t worry: if you know more about your competitors than your significant other, your secret is safe with me.

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