Your competition isn’t as bad as you think.

Regardless of the industry, I’m consistently intrigued how business have such a low opinion of their competition. Every company wants employees who take pride in their work. What surprises me is the disconnect between their view of the competition and the results they see compared to them. You hear stories about how horrible their competitors are, they will have examples of stupid things employees of the competitor have done. Many times it approaches the level of jokes about screen doors on submarines or ejection seats in helicopters.

I wonder, if the competition is completely incompetent and offensive to all their customers, why are they still in business? If they sell inferior products for too high of prices, why do some customers choose them?

There are multiple factors at play here.

First and perhaps most significant are Response Bias & Selection Bias. Customers don’t call you to tell you that they are not going to call you. They don’t send POs listing the items they bought from other companies. They don’t answer to tell you they are ignoring your sales call while talking to someone else. The entire loop of a successful business completely excludes other competing businesses.

The flip side is also true. Customers who call you instead of the competition are doing it for a reason. Customers buy your products because it works for them.

Response Bias also influences what we hear from customers we work with. People like giving good news. People like saying things that make them feel good. People also desire validation for their decisions. People like to feel smart. If anyone tells you “Those other guys stink, I made a good decision to do business with you!”, you are going to agree with them; “Absolutely! You made a great decision! You are smart!”.

People do talk about their bad experiences (usually more than the good ones), they just rarely do it with the people who created that experience.

In addition to information you receive from customers being biased, those inside the company have a unique perspective creating bias. Working at a company every day, you see and hear things that are most times not visible to potential customers. You get to see how hard people work, you get to hear the stories from the people you work with on a daily basis, you know the nitty-gritty about the passion and thoughtfulness that goes into creating the products or services you offer.

Internal bias goes both ways. You may love a product because you experienced the inspiration behind it, saw the hard work that went into it and appreciate the passion that made it a reality. Conversely, a great product can be tainted by office politics or strained relationships in the workplace.

Simply being aware of the bias is a great step towards a clearer view of your competition. Try these 4 tips to start to benefit from your new perspective.

1. Try to view your competitors from the perspective of customers that give them business. Learn ways you can grow.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask. Customers like to know their thoughts and opinions are valued. If you ask a trusted with sincerity how you stack up against the competition they will usually be honest with you.

3. “Better” isn’t always enough to cause customers to move. In competitive businesses, it is often not enough to simply be better or avoid the pitfalls of others. Customers need a reason to move their business to you.

4. Share the story behind your company, products and people with your customers so they can feel the passion that those closest to them see. You and your company are unique and special. Don’t be afraid to show who you are to your customers!

Knowing your customers like you better than the competition is wonderful. Seeing your competition clearly and knowing what would cause their customers to become your customers is powerful!