There is a famous line from the movie The Godfather, Part II. Robert Corleone is trying to find a “traitor” and speaks the words, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” While many people believe that quote was original to the movie, the actual line and concept go back thousands of years when Sun Zhu, the ancient philosopher, wrote about it in his book, The Art of War.
Applying the line to business, it has a similar meaning, but goes like this:
Keep your customers close and your competitors closer.
I wrote about this concept in one of my books, Amaze Every Customer Every Time. As business leaders and owners, it is important to understand the competition. What do they do that’s different—and maybe better? In other words, why would a customer do business with them instead of you? Understanding this is an incredible advantage.
I had a chance to connect with Steven Clayton, CEO and founder of small business marketing SaaS company NetBlaze. He offered five ways to get closer to the competition and understand what they are doing with their customers. The secret is to follow them on social media. It’s amazing what “intel” you can gather on your competitors from their posts on social media. So, here are his ideas, followed by my comments.
1. Keep Up With Your Competitor’s Latest News: This is an easy one. Simply follow them on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, etc. What are their latest announcements, product news, and how are their customers responding to them? And rather than just follow and read, get proactive and create Google Alerts with their company names, as well as their key executives. You’ll see where they are mentioned on other sites, publications, etc.
2. Understand Your Competitor’s Marketing Game Plan Strategy: Start by looking at their website. You’ll see how they are positioning themselves, the words they are using to describe what they do, and the way they tout their features and benefits. You might even see customer testimonials and learn the specifics of what customers say about them. And, read and study their blog posts. Of course, you’ll also want to keep an eye on the social channels mentioned above in number one to learn even more.
3. Get A Feel for Your Competitor’s Online Persona: As you’re studying the websites and social media channels, you’ll learn the online persona—as in the image—they want to portray to their customers. Clayton says, “Study the tone that is being used with customers in their communications and responses.” This is the way to learn the “personality” of the competitor.
4. Learn From Your Competitor’s Unhappy Customers: Thus far, our first three tips have focused on learning about what the competitor is doing that could be taking business away from you. Here we are going to learn why their customers may leave them. Keep a watchful eye on any review sites or forums where the competitor’s customers might be making comments. While watching for negative comments, also observe how they handle their upset customers. There’s a lot you can learn, good and bad, about how to manage angry and/or disappointed customers.
5. Gather Inspiration From The Competition: As you develop and build your competitor intel, use the ideas to spark creativity. Don’t copy your competition. Learn from them and do something different. While you want to know their every move, don’t simply copy what you learn. Make it your own. If all you do is copy, you’ll be just like them. Then you run the risk of becoming a commodity, where price sensitivity can become the only difference between you and them.
Regardless of the type of business you’re in, the size of the company, the industry, and if you’re B2B or B2C, you have competitors. Knowing and understanding their marketing strategies, how they react to their customer’s comments (good and bad), and how they come across in public forums and social media can give you an incredible advantage.