Dave Harries: One of the things that a lot of small businesses can become very concerned with, perhaps even a bit obsessive about, is the competition. Most businesses are going to have competition in one form or another. And if you’re less experienced, because it’s a new business or you’re new to the business world, how do you deal with competition? How do you stop yourself getting a bit paranoid about it and that sort of thing?
Grant Leboff: I don’t think you should be paranoid about the competition at all. Obviously you need to be aware of what’s on offer in the marketplace, because how do you know that you’re giving value if you’re not sure what customers can get elsewhere? So it’s very clear that you have to make sure that you are up with what they’re doing and those kinds of things. But only to the point where I know enough that I can put myself in the shoes of the customer.
I don’t think people should worry about the competition because of the competition. They should worry about the competition because they’re worried about their customer. And that’s already looking at it from a different place because, if you’re obsessed with; Oh! the competition is doing this, we need to do this, you’re never going to innovate, you’ll probably end up being a me too product or service all the time. Whereas I think if you’re only looking at the competition from the point of view of I want to service my customer and provide something amazing for my customers – so I need to understand what else is available for them in that context – I think it already changes the way you view competition, all be it, you should be aware of them.
I think the other thing that you need to be very clear about, is your targeting and segmentation. I think when you’re a very small business, let’s take accountancy, you could have 10 accountants all within 20 square miles of each other, but actually they can be servicing very different target markets or they could position themselves ‘to’ service very different target markets. So let’s just say you’ve got bog standard, sort of high street accountants, but one of them says, you know what? I’m not going to do this anymore, I’m going to be there to service entrepreneurs and, therefore, I’m going to start a networking event or a Tuesday night in my office is for the entrepreneurs. I’m going to make myself much more aware of angel funding and venture capital that’s available and I’m going to be up on new legislation, the grants available to people or whatever else.
You can see how that accountant stops to differentiate themselves, not because of what they do, because that’s the same as everyone else, but because of how they do it, and they’re doing it differently because they’ve targeted and segmented in a different way. So I think that when you’re looking at competition, one of the things you need to think about is targeting and segmentation. Can we pivot in terms of that, which starts to make ourselves very different but not by what we do, but by how we do it because we’re looking at a slightly different audience?
Dave Harries: And another question related to competition, I think perhaps for more established businesses is when the marketplace starts to change, kind of, under your feet. You’ve got a product which has been reasonably successful, you’ve been doing it a few years perhaps, and then without you noticing, almost, perhaps somebody sneaks up on the outside rail with a different version of a similar product, but the customer or the prospects suddenly are more interested in them because he’s got more bells and whistles or whatever. So the actual rules of almost changed. How do you actually deal with that as a business?
Grant Leboff: It’s not easy and it’s easy for me to sit here and say, oh, they need to do so and so, but we can all see… how come Blockbuster didn’t see Netflix coming up? And suddenly blockbuster went bust. To anybody today, downloads were always going to be the future. Why would anybody want to schlep out on a cold day, in the pouring rain, to pick a video when they can sit at home and stream it from the comfort of their chair? It seems kind of obvious now and yet people didn’t get it. So I think in the world that we live in today, which is all so disruptive, any business has to persistently look at the world through the eyes of their customer.
I think where it goes wrong for businesses is… where they should be obsessed is not what their competitor, it’s with their customers. They should be absolutely obsessed of looking at the world through the eyes of their customers and constantly asking themselves, what are my customers going to want next? What do the changes that we’re seeing in the world today, mean for my business? Whether it’s artificial intelligence, or anything else? What is it that’s changing, and be obsessed by that. And when a company does come along and change the rules, and that can happen to any of us, is to understand why. Why are my customers liking that? Ahh! it’s because they can do it from the comfort of their own room. Can I have an angle on that? Is there something I can do? But there is no easy answer and unfortunately you know you can get caught out.