Most markets have competition. A competitor may come in the form of a highly visible organization down the street that hopes to attract the same customers as you, with essentially the same offerings, or it may come from a seemingly unrelated source vying from your customer’s limited resources – a plumber may lose business to an HVAC contractor when someone decides to upgrade the air conditioning unit over the hot water heater.
Smart marketers employ some form of competitive research in an effort to better understand what products and services, pricing models and value propositions they are up against.
But, often, that’s where it stops. The problem with focusing solely on “before” the sale elements is that it gives a limited view of reality. Website copy, pricing and promotions may not give a single clue as to why your competitors are routinely winning business over you.
In fact, studying a competitor from this vantage only, often leads to making the wrong decision in reaction to what you find – our competitor is running a sale, so we need to lower our price. Our competitor is offering a new service so we must react and copy the offering.
If you’re losing business to a competitor or can’t seem to grab any market share from their grasp, there’s a really good chance that they’re beating the dickens out of you through the things they do during and after the sale is made.
While you’ve focused on their SEO, social and direct mail lead generation offers you’ve totally missed the fact that they make buying from them a joy. They’ve removed all friction in the sales process and actually made it something valuable. They have a low-cost trial offering and a rock solid, no questions asked guarantee.
They’ve created a smooth orientation process that educates and sets proper expectations for each new customer. They continue to communicate and educate after the sale. They go back at a preset time and make sure a great result occurred. They find out what else needs to be done, how to do it better and how to collaborate more fully.
They surprise their customers on their birthday, send hand-written notes of appreciation, invite them to valuable education events, facilitate peer-to-peer networking events and introduce them to partners that can successfully add value in other areas.
I write often about something I call the Marketing Hourglass and it’s a framework that can be applied as a competitive research tool as well as business and promotional strategy.
The idea behind the Marketing Hourglass is that you look at your business and marketing efforts with an eye on logically guiding your prospects and customers on a journey through seven logical steps – know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat and refer.
Each step requires multiple forms of content, touchpoints, processes and even products and services as a way of doing business. (You can read more on the Marketing Hourglass here and here.)
Now, imagine if you applied this principle to your competitive research. Imagine if you went beyond their website and advertising and dug into their customer experience looking for all the little things that their customers just love. Imagine if you experienced what it was like to become their customer, what their follow-up looked and felt like, what they did that surprised and delighted you.
What if you applied the Marketing Hourglass to your competitors as well as your business?
The good news is you will likely find some gaps – places where they aren’t effectively guiding the customer journey. If this doesn’t help spotlight the places where you have extreme opportunity, I don’t know what will.
Now, a word of warning here – competitive research of this nature is not simply another invitation to copy your competitors – it’s your chance to see the impact that focusing on customer experience before, during and after the sale.
Once you get good at this way of thinking you can apply it to any business, regardless of industry, and discover the best marketing practices of leading businesses everywhere.
You can even apply this process to a prospective new business client as a way to better understand that prospect and the gaps in their processes that are holding them back.
Once you embrace this holistic view you can proactively initiate new processes, procedures and experiences that your competitors will find it very hard to mimic.