Competing Too Hard Will Kill Your Business

Competing too hard will kill your business. If you see competition everywhere, you may be strangling your company’s growth.

Working with CEOs and management teams to create growth strategies, I watch for existing practices and attitudes that may hinder growth. It’s challenging enough to launch a new venture or a restart a faltering business without creating internal obstacles that weigh it down. An unrealistic view of competition can severely limit or slow the company’s rate of growth.

A famous CEO mentor was fond of telling me, “If you don’t have a competitor, you don’t have a business.” Competition is a great motivator. If you have a company in a market with no competitors, either the market you’re pursuing isn’t really viable, or you lack the constant competitive motivation needed to keep you at the top of your game, or both.

The diagram above illustrates how your perception of competition can affect your company’s rate of growth. Perceiving no competitors suggests that you haven’t yet identified a winnable market worth pursuing. In this situation, a company constantly chases one-off deals, is too inwardly focused, and may be in too weak a position to accelerate revenue by leveraging external assets through partnering.

The converse obstacle, defining competition too broadly and seeing it everywhere, leads to a lack of focus and an obsession with growing market share one percentage point at a time. A “quarter-inch deep, mile wide” market approach precludes finding a repeatable sales model that leads to higher margins and greater working capital. A better path is to pick one or two close competitors to focus all your competitive energy on.

The bottom line is that an unrealistic view of your company, its capabilities, and its relative strengths and weaknesses vis-a-vis other companies will impede growth. The reality deficit can come from many places, but it falls to the CEO to recognize and remove this obstacle whenever it exists, especially when the CEO is the source. Carefully consider whether you are encouraging your team to view the company through rose-colored glasses (no competition) or constantly raising the specter of competitive doom to motivate them (competition everywhere).

How then do top-performing management teams compete effectively?

  1. They realize that focusing on competing against too many others weakens their company by draining its resources, so they choose instead one or two closest competitors and focus on winning against them.
  2. They prioritize “growing the pie” over increasing the size of their slice.
  3. They stay outwardly focused to learn what the market is telling them about customer demand.
  4. “Know thyself.” They understand their company’s strengths and weaknesses so well that, when a high-impact threat or opportunity arises that can’t be addressed organically, they create self-fueling partnerships that enable them to respond quickly.

About Bob Barker
Bob Barker is a trusted advisor to CEOs, helping them identify, define, and execute new growth-accelerating opportunities. He also shares ideas on LinkedIn (robertgbarker), in guest posts on related blogs, and in industry publications. Contact him via email at bob@2020outlook.com.

Comments

One Response to “Competing Too Hard Will Kill Your Business”
  1. Great post, Bob.

    And very true. Just like the U2’s song goes, competitors will define you:
    ‘Choose your enemies carefully ‘cos they will define you / Make them interesting ‘cos in some ways they will mind you / They’re not there in the beginning but when your story ends / Gonna last with you longer than your friends’

    I think it is also important to determine who you compete against not only based on your industry or product category, but in terms of what is the ‘Job To Be Done’ that customers hire your products to do. In other words, understanding the broad set of alternatives (including doing nothing) that customers could choose instead of your product.

    Last, while it is important to keep an eye on your competition, the best strategy to compete is to be awesome at what you do.

    Cheers,

    @gerardodada