By Adrian Swinscoe, Director At RARE Business

In one of the earlier articles (7 Steps to Finding Your Uniqueness), I talked about defining your own uniqueness. Part of that article was about understanding what your competitors are doing. In this article, I want to go into that in more depth as it is an area that a lot of businesses can benefit from in terms of innovation and remaining competitive in front of their customers.

First of all, when I suggest this as a worthy activity to clients they often come back with the reply: Why should we spend precious time and resources studying our competitors when we have so much to do?

That’s a fair question if your business is going well but it is a worthy investment of your time and energy for the following reasons:

- Your competitors can be a great source of what is working in the market for them

- It can be a great source of new ideas of how you could add to your product/service mix

- It will also keep you abreast of what could be happening in the marketplace that could entice customers away from you and impact on your customer retention

To stay abreast of your competition here are 14 questions you should be asking and reviewing on a regular basis:

1.Who are your potential competitors in each of your target markets?

2.What are their strengths and what are their weaknesses?

3.Who are the customers of each competitor?

4.Why might a customer buy from them instead of you?

5.What is the pricing structure of each competitor?

6.Do your competitors enjoy the support of a strong investor or parent company?

7.How is each competitor positioned? This means what is the mental image that comes into the customers mind when he/she thinks about your competitor?

8.How do your competitors promote their products and services?

9.Who are the suppliers of each competitor?

10.Are there any new competitors that are going to come up in the industry?

11.How do the competing products/services rate in terms of quality, size, appearance, warranty etc.?

12.What are their hours of operation? Do they do business in any way that is different to you?

13.What are your rivals’ sales channels (retail, direct, mail order, web)? What is their sales mix, and could it change?

14.Do any of your competitors have any joint ventures or strategic partnerships in place?

These are 14 questions that you should be asking about your competitors and reviewing them on a regular basis. Once done you should be reviewing your position against them and asking yourself if you can spot any gaps that need to be filled in your business or opportunities for innovation.

Can you think of any more questions that I should add to this list?

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