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Play To Your Competitive Strengths

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Avoid your competitor's strength, and attack their weakness.Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The challenger should seek a weakness in the leader's strength.Al Ries and Jack Trout, Marketing Warfare.

When developing a competitive strategy, don’t try to compete directly against your competitor’s strengths. Instead, focus on—and build up—your strengths. It seems logical enough but we continue to see companies ignore this competitive reality.

My friend Frank claims that Amazon is killing the local retailer. He said the same thing about Wal-Mart and Costco a decade ago. The thing is, in the last few years, Frank has expanded his stores three-fold, and business is booming.


He doesn’t compete on price.

Local retailers simply cannot offer lower prices than the big box stores or the internet giants. They don’t have the buying power and they don’t have the stock turnover.

So how can the small guys succeed?

Smaller vendors compete on service. It's good business, yes, but it's also because customer service is the big weakness for most large vendors. They simply cannot provide the high-touch service that many customers want—and are willing to pay for.

John Naisbitt coined the phrase “high tech, high touch” in his 1982 bestseller Megatrends. Some buyers prefer high tech; we buy products based on the technical details on the website and in brochures, avoiding sales people entirely. A high-tech sale generally works best for products with low complexity and a limited set of options such as development tools like Jira and product management tools like Under10 Playbook.

Other buyers prefer high touch; we want help from a qualified sales person or sales team, a trusted advisor, particularly for a product that requires a high level of customization or consideration. We need help answering questions like “What options do you recommend for my setup?” and “Will this configuration handle the anticipated workload?” A high-touch sale involves application of product knowledge to a specific implementation. Examples include complex software applications but also consulting and training services.

What does this mean to product marketing?

Product marketing should provide generic sales and promotional materials that guide buyers through their journey. Arm your sales team with tools designed to be customized—materials that are not otherwise available to the customer. Sales tools like configuration tools and ROI calculators help the sales team to adapt the generic to the specific. Marketing materials are standard and market-specific; sales tools are adaptable and buyer-specific.

Then map these materials to the buyer’s journey, describing each step of the journey and showing which tools are designed for that step. Focus your sales teams on solving customer problems—they need to think of themselves as buyer support, helping a potential customer get the right product for their scenario.

That’s how you compete against the market gorilla. Provide a level of pre- and post-sales support that the huge players can’t offer. Play to your strengths. Build on your strengths in areas your competitor won’t.

Not sure about your strengths? Use the Under10 ASPIRE tool to profile areas of strengths and identify areas for growth. Learn more about ASPIRE in the free ebook here.
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