Everyday in Silicon Valley, you hear about companies and entrepreneurs attempting to invent an entire new category for their product. It certainly sounds visionary on the surface — how awesome would it be to be the only player in a brand-new space?
But early in my marketing career, I learned a golden rule that has stuck with me ever since: Any market where you don’t have competitors is no market to be in. It rings just as true today — competition is truly a good thing.
And for most entrepreneurs, competition is inevitable. So how should they deal with competition? The natural instinct for a lot of entrepreneurs locked in a competitive environment is to gain better visibility into their competitor’s strategies, results, and long-term plans. These entrepreneurs are constantly measuring themselves against their competitors, which wastes time, energy, and valuable resources.
I’ve found is that most companies lose their way when they obsess about other players in the market. At a previous company, there were times when our product and marketing teams would get so wrapped up in the features we had compared to our competition that our only focus was playing catch up. We became so concerned with matching the pace of our competitors that we forgot why we offered certain features in the first place — to benefit the end user.
That’s why it is critical that marketers view their respective markets through the eyes of their customers. At ON24, our leadership team works hard to cultivate a customer-centric company that focuses on our customer’s needs and their experience using our solution. Therefore, when we approach competitive intelligence, we do so through the lens of our prospective customers.
By first determining our customer’s addressable needs, we are then able to outline the roadmap that will guide the products and features our engineering and development teams build. This process has produced some of our most valuable – and differentiable – feature sets to date.
Consider this example. In the webinar marketing space, one of the questions we are continually asked by customers is, “how do you identify the best leads?” Every day marketers receive dozens of customer contacts through their marketing channels. Identifying which of those contacts will result in a sale is much harder than collecting them. As I like to put it, marketers want to identify the needles in the haystack. Current offerings and those of our competitors attempt to solve this problem by simply dumping more contacts into the mix, promising customers the sales leads are in there, somewhere.
It would have been easy for us to do the same. Follow what our competitors were doing and produce a comparable feature. But we focused on the customer’s needs instead of moving step for step with our competitors. We recognized that our customers were not in the market for more leads, but enhanced lead scoring. So, we tuned our product with advanced behavioral data and tied that into popular marketing automation platforms. No one in the space was doing that at the time, because no one was focused on solving the precise problems of the customer.
By focusing on our customers’ pain points, we had recognized the universal need for data-driven insight. Every marketer we spoke to said they wanted to be data-driven, but few knew what exactly that meant and far fewer understood which products they needed to achieve that goal. Where our competitors saw a feature to add, we saw a customer problem to address that went a step further.
Comparing your company to competitors is healthy, but don’t let it dictate the direction of your company. Listen to your customers. Make their needs and desires the focal point of your business — and your competitors will follow in your footsteps.