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Anne, you are not alone :-) My partner and I rarely focus on or think about what other companies are doing with regard to positioning. That doesn't mean we don't listen or understand what is happening in the market. I was "brought up" as a journalist and political consultant trained in opposition research, so keeping up with the competition is important. Nevertheless, there is a difference between "knowing" your competition and "reacting" to it. In politics, the saying goes that it's better to play offense than defense, and the same basic principle applies here.

Hello Anne,
I think truth is in between the extrems....

If you spent your time looking at your competitors you will finish by only imitating and running behind them... On the other hand, if you never watch your competition you can miss a new trend or the fact they launched an innovation or a new way of selling that can just make your products or business model useless... (Remember rail or boat transportation when airplanes arrived...).

So I am personnaly dedicating a bit of time to regularly look at my competitors (I do respect some of them and am always interest in keeping an eyes on them) but I put a big part of my energy serving our existing customers and trying to test, design and offer innovatives solutions & strategies...

Growth relies in innovation, not copycatting ;-)

In my opinion, you can afford not to worry too much about competition when the services you provide are unique and are based on a unique area of excellence that is yours. When you are there, you just need to stress how unique you are, and you do not need to spend too much time analyzing your competition. Anyway, if you are not unique, your customers will let you know without hesitation.

However, remeber two things:
1 - Never come to the point of ignoring competition. Competition is ALWAYS there, even if not visible
2 - It takes a lot of work to determine what is your own area of excellence and how you are unique. I find it the most difficult task by far, and it can take years before you get there.

You have to be aware of the competition if only to see potential business opportunities to follow up with in terms of who they are working for who you might not be. But you can waste a good deal of time developing a counter strategy and not develop a strategy of your own.

Or worse yet have a strategy that is only a series of counter strategies but offers nothing that by itself is the complete package.

That said the occasional checking out of the competition is something that I do at least every once and a while just to make sure I'm not missing anything major. But that said I'm in a bit more of a specialized market in some ways.

I always "check out" my competition. In federal bids, I FOIA copies of likely competitors recent bids to make sure they have not developed something new that places them ahead of me. I also get copies of bids when I miss out on a bid. I usually have staff perform "exit" interviews with agencies that award bids to my competition to see where we came up short and could improve. Believe me there are many companies who make a great living being second in the industry and skipping the R and D.
That being said, the most important skill you can have in business is the ability to innovate or "hybrid think" as one of my partners likes to call it. If you are not constantly looking for new ways (big and small) to improve and innovate your business rest assured someone else is, and when you compete for business with that company, you will get your head handed to you. Look for ways to make non-customers your customer. Turn a crisis into an opportunity. Be the first to use affordable technology to "evolve". Know your competition well enough to take advantage of your innovations. And be prepared. Your new idea will be immediately emulated and improved on by many in your industry. We no longer just compete- we hypercompete. Ignore it at your own risk!

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