I am a college football fan. Perhaps you are a fan, too? That was one awesome National Championship game Monday night for just about everyone but Alabama fans! Do you think Dabo Sweeney and his entire Clemson team really studied Alabama, knew their weaknesses, and exploited them? How many hours of game film did they watch? If you were in the driver’s seat, how many hours would you be willing to put in to study the opposition to help win a National Championship? 

Now think about your team. Me? I am a loyal Husker fan –even in a no-bowl game season (although they have been named a team to watch next year in the new Scott Frost era). My challenge is that the team I root for, the one where my father-in-law became a NCAA Hall of Famer running back, and has served four generations of Reynolds’ is not a fan favorite where I live. But I am a Husker through and through! In fact, I am an alum. However, I live in KC and am surrounded with Tigers and Jayhawks and Wildcats. I don’t do a lot of talking about my team around here but I do a lot of listening. It never ceases to amaze me how many football fans know everything about the opposing teams–especially their favorite rival. It doesn’t just happen. They really study up. It never ceases to amaze me how many football fans know everything about the opposing teams–especially their favorite rival. It doesn’t just happen.

Ok, so here is my point. When winning teams we admire and fans of this popular sport study competition to understand how to “win the game”, why is it we invest so little to know more about our toughest business competitors?

Why don’t you know your competition?

We say there isn’t information available. Really? Or is tougher to get? I ask you, if you spent the same amount of time collecting information on business competitors the way you do your favorite sports rival do you think you would know more than you know now?

Why should you know your competition?

I have been teaching my community of company leaders the value of having good data in order to grow their organizations. And competitive data is one area where there is usually a gap in knowledge. Particularly for those of you who compete in mid-markets where many entities are private. Market data is, in fact, one of the four critical factors, or strands, in achieving growth in your business. We call these four factors “GrowthDNA”. Without good market data, we don’t have a reason to challenge the status quo, align our thinking around facts rather than opinions, and make bolder moves supported by hard information. Reliable competitive data is an essential part of the first, and possibly the most important, of the four factors or strands in GrowthDNA. When it is missing, or is malformed, growth is stunted.

How do you learn about your competition?

First, commit to studying your market. Make a change in your attitude about the importance of data in your growth strategy, and establish a norm in the organization for listening to what customers, suppliers, pundits and employees are saying about your products, your services, your company, other companies, your industry, and consumer trends related to your business. Develop a system for recording what you learn and analyzing what is working, what is not, and what is changing.

Here are some specific ways you can begin to learn about your competition:

  • Attend industry events and listen. When you or your employees attend conferences, trade shows, or association events, listen to questions and concerns of others in your industry or supply chain. Bring that information back and make it part of your data system.
  • Send out surveys to customers, suppliers, and employees on a regularly basis, and look especially for changes in expectations or opinions.
  • Instruct sales to listen for wants, needs, like, dislikes in customers and prospects, and to bring that back to the organization. What keeps customers coming back? What competition are they facing in the field? What is making it difficult to make the sale?
  • Comb the web for information about the competition, your company, and your industry. What are paying saying? What is changing?

Analyze and Use the Data

When you gather information about your favorite sports teams and their competition, you have some way of examining the data, and you form opinions about what steps the coaches should be taking to build on their strengths or shore up their weaknesses and win. You need a system that does something similar with the information you gather about your business environment. Turn the data you collect into information you can use in constructing a growth plan. In our GrowthDNA work, we construct a competitive map to see where your strengths can be used as an edge, and where your weaknesses might be holding you back, and how you might want to change your competitive market position over time.

Share the Data

Encourage your employees to know the data, too. Your organization is your team, your industry is your league, and your stats help everyone win the game. Go team!

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