Know your enemy and know yourself and you will always be victorious. – Sun Tzu

  • Your enemy is not the competition
  • Your enemy is certainly not the customer
  • Your enemy is you

“What are you talking about Chris?”, you might be asking yourself.

Fight The Natural Tendency To Protect Yourself

Today I received a call from a friend of mine, my direct competitor in my business.  He informed me that one of my customers had asked him for a service quote and the customer accepted it.  My friend realized a short time later that it was my customer and withdrew the bid.  How can this be possible in the cutthroat business world we live in?  It’s called strong business ethics.

The ‘enemy’ I speak of was the belief I had when I started my companies (and sometimes still have to fight) in caring at all for my competition.  It was the belief that business should be conducted independent of any consideration of your competition with the exception of knowing their pricing and practices.  Over time, I realized some things:

  • Your competition is owned by a person – just likes you
  • Your competition is trying to support themselves, their families, and achieve their own dreams
  • There can be value in establishing a friendship with your competition
  • The pie is always much larger than you think

Prioritize Your Customer, Sometimes At Your Own Expense

The easiest way to achieve good relationships with your competition is to always think of the customer first!

One of the first customer service practices I established was to provide a referral to a competitor when we were too booked to perform the service ourselves.  This is win-win, all the way around.  The customer sees that you care for their well-being.  They understand you are willing to give business away for their own welfare.  And because of this, you have built trust.  Your competitor sees this is an olive branch.  You are extending your hand for a handshake.  And because of this, you have built trust.

In time, you may actually become friends with your competition, as I have.  I regularly talk to them about many different aspects of our businesses, our markets, and even pricing.  I don’t even have to play games with pretending to be a customer to get pricing!  Now how cool is that?

Even more cool are some unintended consequences:  We’ve established turf.  If our customers go to a friendly competitor and it’s purely a pricing issue, we don’t take our competitor’s customers.  As any good business person knows, nobody wins in a price war, especially small businesses.  If the customer has decided that they had a different customer service issue with their original service (not related to pricing), we take the business but then call our friendly competitor to tell them what happened.

Sounds crazy, right?  It isn’t if you think about it.

What is another consequence?

You can build pseudo-partnerships.  For example, there was a potential customer that required a very large amount of resources required to provide what they needed.  Independently, my friendly competitors and my own company could not solely provide the services required.  So, what did we do?  We teamed up and submitted a joint bid for the service.

You are probably saying, “Well that’s nice, but it wouldn’t work in my market.”  Maybe not.  It’s a little more complicated than that as corporations scale up in size.  For as corporations scale up, the ability to see that there are people in those organizations begins to diminish.  We tend to see large corporations as giant beasts rather than a sum of its employees.  And giant beasts will consume as much of the market it can.

And yet even at those levels this doesn’t change:  The enemy is not the competition.  The enemy is the force that compels corporate leaders and business owners to see their competition as the enemy rather than people.  The pie is almost always huge and there’s usually plenty to go around.  It doesn’t mean we aren’t competitive in our pricing, delivering high product value, and excellent customer service.  It’s just a shift in philosophy in this one area, and one that will return business success back to you tremendously in the long run.