As it appeared in the Daily Nation on February 16th 2016
In determining the best strategies, smart companies look at many aspects of the internal and the external environments. Every student of business can tell you more about identifying strengths and weaknesses from the internal environment as well as opportunities and threats from the external environment. Most will also happily go on to detail the political, economic, social cultural, technological and even ecological and legal environments. Others in business are keener on the industry analysis looking at the ease of entry or the availability of close substitutes amongst other aspects. Smart companies in addition to being aware about what is happening in the environment spend considerable time and effort understanding their customers and building a strong bond with them. They know who their loyal customers are and their first priority is to hold on to these customers. Unfortunately, there are companies who put their greatest effort in analysing competitors.
In my early career days, I was once in charge of producing a report titled “competitor analysis”. It required me to visit stores, compare prices of dairy products and note them down as well as purchase the competitors’ products for testing. In addition any new products or any new offers would quickly be identified. I loved doing it and every week I had a report that helped us identify opportunities to improve. I knew that the executive team looked forward to this report too. In addition to focusing on the competitors we also spent considerable amount of time ensuring that our own products were of high quality. As I reflect back on this I am confident that if the company had only focused on the competitors’ products it would not be where it is today.
Today, many organizations are facing stiff competition. Internationally taxis are wondering how to compete with Uber and many including those here in Kenya are up in arms. Hotels too are complaining about cheaper accommodation on offer at Airbnb.com. Locally DSTV might be wondering if Netflix and live streaming of sporting activities will be detrimental to its subscriptions. We have also witnessed competitive rivalry between Airtel and Safaricom and Safaricom Mpesa and Equitel Pesa. Certainly the marketplace is changing much faster than ever before and the competition continues to grow. The big question is “Who should we worry most about – the Competition or our Customers?
I am from the school of thought that we need to worry more about our customers and less about our competitors. Why should we mystery shop our competitors if we are not even mystery shopping ourselves? Do we know the reasons why our customers would want to move to the competition? What are we doing about it? My mantra that loyal customer are good for business simply means that we need to hold on to our customers. We must be cognizant of the changes in our environment and respond accordingly. Conversely, clarity on why our customers would like to come back or why they prefer to move away is critical. I believe that if we worry enough about our customers we will find ways to outsmart the competitors, stay ahead and build loyal customers.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on email@example.com/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy