Dear Manager,

In last month’s issue I shared a study on competition and its impact on two companies with which I am familiar. This study suggested that while competitors in our chosen category should be monitored, our true competition lies just under our nose.

As managers, we have little ability to impact or exercise control over competitors in our product category. We can certainly anticipate, respond to, out-maneuver and stay a step ahead of … but the ability to control their efforts simply doesn’t exist in the free world. We can only impact areas in which we have some degree of control: our staff, our sales partners, our customers, and the actual consumer. These are our true competitors; these are the areas of significant opportunity.

This month I would like to analyze this group by shedding more light on their potential. We must look to them not only as allies, but also as the competition, friendly as they might be. I believe we would all agree that competition is good for us. It is truly what makes the American form of business so engaging. Competition has made us all better professionals; it is the foundation for the entrepreneurial spirit as we know it. If truth be told, we revel in competition on the winning side, as compared to the alternative. Having now established this new breed of competitors, let’s review their agendas and the levels of control we have in this collaborative destiny.

Your Management Staff (greatest control)

Their competitive nature suggests you are competing for their intellectual potential. As managers, it is critical that we surround ourselves with the very best lieutenants available in the marketplace. A strong manager is one who knows his own weaknesses and aligns himself/herself with those who can best shore up shortcomings. A competitive environment must exist to meet our highest collective potential. We want those who will challenge the process, those who will create a competitive environment in determining the supreme conclusion. Anything less and we are surrounded by little competition, limited intellectual potential, and too much of a single voice. Management is a democracy, not a dictatorship.

One of the keys to managing this group is in creating an environment of loose controls, an independent identity, and significant personal responsibility. While this is the group where management may hold the potential for greatest control, this is also the group who essentially should require the least. This group by sheer proximity best assimilates your culture, your objectives, and your single mission. There should be no need to overstate your need for control in this arena. Your staff certainly comprehends where the final decisions are being made.

Your greatest challenge will be in creating an “all hands on deck” approach. There is nothing worse than a key member of management sending mixed signals with regards to product introduction, policies, or their collective agenda. The creative process must be an open forum, one that respects the input and conclusions of all participants, because once the missile has been launched, there can be no turning back. Each player must be in sync for the target, any target, to be reached. Post launch contention is a symptom of dysfunctional management.

Sales Partners (limited control)

Their competitive nature suggests you are competing for their time. Naturally, you are looking for individuals who will position and sell your agenda or products, often with little or no personal input or ownership on their part. These folks are generally an independent lot who have been asked to be your soldiers, to simply buy in and “blindly” promote your objectives. With most professional sales partners, strategic business evaluations are being made every day. They have the ability and street savvy to assess your initiative expeditiously. If you have indeed missed the mark, they are not about to hang around long enough to participate in your failure.

This is the nature and system of sales. Any manager who suggests that they would survive in any other model or sales agenda is not living in the real world. In creating an environment for success, management must provide its soldiers with the tools, and all possible weapons, for success. Poorly conceived introductions, poorly prepared execution, let alone bad timing, will send your soldiers into mutiny. This is why we, as managers, are effectively competing for their time. When that lid to their trunk opens up, a decision is made multiple times each and every day as to where their allegiances, and most lethal ammunition, lies.

Your Retail Customers (much less control)

Their competitive nature suggests you are competing for their space. While loyalties and business relationships continue to exist today, when it comes down to running a business in the black or in the red, our retailers should never be considered colorblind. Those who are will eventually fail, regardless of our efforts or their loyalties. We must continually and consistently sustain performance in order to compete for their attention and space for our products.

If it’s not price, then it’s surely innovation and design that will capture their attention. Our retail customers are purely a “survival of the fittest” kind of crowd. Marketing of consumer products has created a whole new standard in recent years. Between the sale of products at cost clubs, big box retailers in many new categories, and on the Internet, retail is no place for the faint of heart. Our introductions must show empathy for this changing environment, and must be focused and targeted more than at any other time in the past. All too often, products with significant consumer potential never cut the mustard due to poor execution and a lackluster introduction into their established market. Unless shelf space is earned, we will simply never know just how “consumer worthy” our product’s potential truly is.

The Consumer (little or no control)

Their competitive nature suggests you are either competing for their convenience … or their spirit. While consumers are the group over which you hold the least amount of control, you still have more power over them than you do over your category competitors. There is about as much chance in predicting the consumers’ desires as there is in handicapping the ponies on a Saturday afternoon. If the ever-changing wishes and whims of the consumer could be accurately defined, none of us would have a job. Heck, they don’t even know what they want, so how are we supposed to position the target?

This is where it gets very interesting. When you think about it,
management, sales partners, and retailers are all banking on their own abilities to fully understand exactly what the consumer is willing to purchase, en mass. There are certainly indications, and educated guesses a plenty, but no one ever knows for certain. Over the years, focus groups, clinical trials, test marketing, and surveys have reduced the risk in the process. Yet, as often as not, by the time the product has hit the shelf, the fickle nature of consumers’ needs and desires has altered.

If price is not your position of strength in the marketplace, you must capture the interests of your consumer with their hearts. Why else would millions of people pay $7.00 for a piece of paper with a few words scribbled on it, and mail it for Mothers Day? There are certainly very creative and capable individuals who are gifted in this arena. When you find a good one, hold on very tight.

Management Staff, Sales Partners, Retail Customers, the Consumer; these are the competitors that deserve most of management’s attention, for they are the competitors where you may exercise at least some control in your destiny.

Personal Regards,


INTERPERSONAL© is published by INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM, Keenan Longcor, Editor, ©2010. Duplication of this publication is permitted for both personal and business use. Excerpts may only be quoted with acknowledgment of INTERPERSONAL/INTERPERSONALBIZ.ORG as the source. For re-publication rights, please contact the editor at KEENAN@INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM