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What's Your Competitive Edge?

Friday 5 October, 2007
How many of us have been in business for a while and things have been going along smoothly, sales coming in, customers are happy. Then you notice that you are not winning the business you used to win.

In fact, you notice some of your customers are using new players in the marketplace when they once used you, or they are not doing anything at all. You follow up and find out that your clients are keen to work with the new players because they bring something different, new or unusual. Or they are distracted by other things and don't want to do anything.

Initially, you may take it as personal rejection - ‘they don't like me'.  Then you stop the self wallowing and realise that:

  • You missed out on a new trend, or a new idea, that was gaining momentum in your market, so your approach is now out-of-date or not as attractive or relevant any more.
  • What's worse, you realise you have not kept pace with changes in your market. You were too internally focused and not focusing on the outside world. Your business is at risk of becoming obsolete. You lost your competitive edge.

With the commoditisation of many products and processes, the business landscape can change overnight and you lose your edge. What was once a high value, premium or customised product or service can be reduce to a ‘me 2' very quickly.

We now need to be regularly looking at our markets and especially our competition and what they are up to.  Often the old strenths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis (SWOT) is done when the original business plan is put together and then maybe spasmodically after that. 

Given the rate of change, new innovations and ideas in the market, how often do we need to assess our competitors and our competitive edge?  I'm not sure, but I know that once a year is not enough these days. There is so much competition out there competing for people's time, attention and money, it's hard to keep up.

And your competition isn't just your direct competitors. It can be anyone. Do you know who are your:

  • Current competition?
  • Peripheral competition?
  • Emerging competition?

Being market aware, community aware and world aware, is part of our competitor analysis these days. Rather than sit back and think it is all too hard, I have found that regularly reviewing where you are at in relation to everyone else in your space, and checking the broader market is a good idea. This doesn't mean you have to resort to investing in major market research campaigns.

You really need to be reseraching every day. Every contact you make or receive can give you market intelligence. Here are some ways we have found useful in keeping up to date with the competition:


The internet is a powerful tool for finding information on a variety of topics.

Personal visits

If possible, visit your competitors' locations. Observe how employees interact with customers. What do their premises look like? How are their products displayed and priced?

Talk to customers

Take careful note of what your customers and prospects are saying about your competitors.

Competitors' ads / websites / etc.

Analyse competitors' ads, websites, other marketing literature, etc.  to learn about their target audience, market position, product features, benefits, prices, etc.

Speeches / Presentations

Attend speeches or presentations made by representatives of your competitors.

Trade show displays

View your competitor's display from a potential customer's point of view. What does their display say about the company? Observing which specific trade shows or industry events competitors attend provides information on their marketing strategy and target market.

Written sources

  • General business publications
  • Marketing and advertising publications
  • Local newspapers and business journals
  • Industry and trade association publications
  • Industry research and surveys


Understanding your competitors is an integral part of your sales planning process. By investing the time in researching your competitors you will be able to:

  1. Understand your competitor's advantages and disadvantages relative to your own position
  2. Highlight key areas of focus based on your position within the market, compared to competitors
  3. Provide an informed basis to develop strategies to achieve competitive advantage in the future
  4. Be prepared to handle questions or challenges posed by potential customers in relation to competitors

Questions to ask

  • Who are the key competitors in your market place?
  • What is the profile of each of your key competitors (e.g. market position, size, distribution, reputation)?
  • What are your competitors' primary objectives (e.g. to be number one in the market, rapidly increase market share, specialise in a particular segment of the market)?
  • What do they do well?
  • What don't they do well?
  • What threats do your competitors pose?
  • What is your primary competitive advantage over them?

Author Credits

Sue Barrett is Founder & Managing Director of Barrett Pty Ltd, an Australian-based sales fitness firm that helps businesses build high performing sales teams, and is author of ‘Sell Like a Woman'. For further information please email: svb@barrett.com.au or visit the web site: www.barrett.com.au
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