Let me be clear:
If you’ve got a viable business you’ve got competition.
I often hear executives claim that they don’t have any competition. I even catch myself saying it about Imagine, sometimes. The reality is, no matter how “unique” your products/services are, your customers and prospects still have alternatives. You may (and I emphasize “may”) not have any direct competition, but you certainly have:
- indirect competitors, and
- the toughest competitor of all, the status quo.
People don't buy products and services so much as they "hire" a product or service to do "a job." This means that if some doesn't have a problem (a job to be done) there is no opportunity for [a sale]. The only offerings that can have no competition are the ones that do a job that nobody wants. To be accepted in the market, you must be able to define the job that you are asking people to hire your product/service to do.
This is an important distinction, because a critical strategic decision for any business is how you define your competition. The brain of your customers/prospects requires contrast to understand and act. Your definition of competition is what makes it possible to radically differentiate your company (think about it - how can you contrast with nothing?).
When I started Imagine, I thought I had an approach that was so unique that no one did what we do. So when asked who my competitors are, I brazenly responded: "We don't really have competition. No one does what we do." That, of course, got me nowhere. I was so focused on getting people to understand what we weren't (we weren't Sandler, we weren't Miller Hieman, no we weren't a marketing agency, and so on) that no one could understand what we were.
I realized that I needed to define my competition. The easiest way to do that was do compare us to "sales trainers." But, I knew that sales training was a highly commoditized, highly competitive market and that it would be virtually impossible to stand out or to earn the fees we needed to deliver the results we promise.
Stuck (because I could define what we weren't, but not what we were) I asked myself, what is the job that someone is hiring us for?
My first thought was that people were hiring us to do sales training. But I knew that didn't do us justice. So I pondered it more and I realized that no one wants sales training - what they want is more sales. More, profitable sales and faster sales. That was our job - to enable companies to get more sales, faster sales and more profit per sale.
Now defining my competition was easy - we compete (and cooperate) with virtually any product or service designed to help companies with their go-to-market strategy. This completely changed the focus of my company, enabled us to attract some great clients that would never of hired us to merely do sales training, and it gave us a track for successful innovation. Today, we continue to pursue that journey.
Now it's your turn. What "job" do people hire your products/services to do? What else is competing for that job?