It’s times like these, when your competitors are distracted, that you can get the jump on them. If your competitors have had to lay off staff, or cut expenses, they may be just limping along. Marketing was probably one of the first things they pulled back on – even while knowing they shouldn’t have. Chances are they haven’t invested in new technology … trying instead to “get by” with the computers and systems they have. By the time their business picks up (if it ever does), they will have a lot of catching up to do.
You, on the other hand, can be putting this time to good use. Strive to outperform your competitors while they are distracted. Here are seven steps that will help you get ahead of the competition:
1. Set clear growth and profitability goals. Not just a fuzzy idea of where you want to be next week, next month or next year – your goals must be much more specific. What are your sales targets? What steps do you need to take each week to meet your sales goals? Break it down into small steps. The problem most small businesses face is too much distraction, too many projects at once, too little focus. It’s a lot easier to beat the competition when you are focused on it. Here are some resources to help you with goal setting and planning: Plan-As-You-Go Business Planning and SCORE Business Tools.
2. Know your customers’ needs and wants better than your competitors. If you haven’t done a customer survey within the past 12 months, it’s time for one. And communicate the results widely through your company – a survey is no good unless you use the data gathered. Most companies do not share their survey results widely internally – you’ll be better than average if you do. Use tools like SurveyMonkey, Constant Contact or QuestionPro to perform surveys painlessly online. Or go on customer visits. Call on your customers to see how they are doing, or whether they have any problems you can help them with. You’ll get a chance to see them in their working environment, which will help you understand their needs better.
3. Find out why customers leave. Are you spending more time bringing a customer into your sales process than figuring out why they left? You’re not alone – many companies (including competitors) put their efforts on filling the sales funnel, but never bother to track or analyze lost sales or lost customers. This dooms you to an endless replay of the same mistakes over and over, like something out of the movie Groundhog Day. Put in place a formal process to ask customers why they are cancelling your service or why they chose a competitor’s product. This can be done by phone or by online questionnaire. Compile the results into a report that is shared with managers and other key personnel each month. You’ll soon spot patterns suggesting weaknesses to fix.
4. Focus outside the 4 walls – and use social media to help. Know your competitors, what they are offering, their marketplace reputation and their weaknesses and strengths. Insist that your product development, sales, marketing and customer service personnel become and stay familiar with competitive offerings. Comparisons should be to external standards – i.e., how your company stacks up against competitors. Don’t compare progress to internal standards. Checking out what competitors are doing…and even their reputation in the marketplace…has never been easier with social media. Review sites such as Yelp! can be a goldmine. Also, read: How to Monitor Your Competition Using Social Media and 11 Competitive Intelligence Tools for SMBs.
5. Know your “customer numbers.” Do you know your customer retention rate? Do you know your acquisition cost for new customers, i.e., how much it costs to get each new customer? These metrics can be eye-opening, and may cause you to rethink how much effort you place on getting new customers once you realize the typical high cost. Companies that track these two metrics better appreciate the value of keeping existing customers happy. Read: The Cost of Acquiring New Clients and What is an Acceptable Cost Per Acquisition?
6. Benchmark. Have you measured your progress against others in your industry? Sure, you want your business to be unique/original/one of a kind. But it makes sense to measure how your business performs compared to others with roughly similar products, services or business models. Knowing how your business stacks up can tell you how much and where to improve. Read: How to Use Benchmarking in Business.
7. Review, review, review. None of this stuff will be any good to your business if you don’t track your results and review your findings, not just day to day in the beginning while it remains a shiny new priority but monthly/quarterly/yearly to determine whether you’re on the right path. Learn more: 60-Second Guide to Using Your Business Plan to Monitor Progress.
So, the tools and techniques to outperform competitors are at your disposal. Will you wait for the tide to rise buoying up both you and your competitors – or chart your own course of growth and prosperity?