Thursday, July 14, 2005

Competition

Upsetting People

James Governor writes: "If you aren't upsetting some competitor then you just aren't making your customers or community happy enough ..." As he points out, upsetting your competitors doesn't come from badmouthing them (which may be counterproductive, as this post from Josh Hallet indicates) but by upstaging them. He also points out that you have to be prepared to annoy your colleagues as well.

In some organizations, just telling your customers the truth is sufficient to annoy and upset (some of) your colleagues. (What can I say about such organizations?)

Related Story

From the mid 80s to the mid 90s, I worked for a software company selling a large and expensive CASE tool. We put a lot of effort into the pre-sales process, trying to persuade prospective customers that our solution was much more powerful, flexible and scaleable than cheaper alternatives. We then put a lot of effort into early adoption projects, pushing large organizations up a rocky learning curve with a series of small pilot projects in which the technical superiority of our solution was not always strongly evident. Many of these customers never got beyond the pilot stage.

However, many prospective customers were not convinced, despite the eloquence and skill of our sales force. They adopted cheaper products, which they used to learn about the technology and how it could be deployed in their organizations. Some of them returned within a couple of years, now ready to invest seriously in a more powerful, flexible and scaleable solution. These organizations now had a much better idea how to use this technology properly, and were much less resistant to the necessary process, organizational and management changes.

Competitors had taken some revenue to be sure, but they had given something useful in return - guiding these organizations halfway along the adoption path.

Zero Sum?

So is competion a zero sum game? Not at all. Any success or failure of one product alters the perceptions of the industry towards that class of product. And to some extent, learning and technology change can often be transferred between competing products.

Badmouthing your competitors may drive your customers into your competitors' arms. Or worse, it may simply persuade the industry that the entire class of product (including yours) is too immature and high-risk to be worth considering.

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