“Know your enemy” is a famous phrase from Sun Tzu‘s sixth-century book, The Art of War. The exact quotation is: “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”
When one is engaged in real warfare, the words above may be very valid. However, I think we all need to take stock and ask ourselves how it applies to our business lives.
Evaluating Your Business Competition
A number of years ago, I was running a manufacturing operation for a Connecticut based company. One of our primary competitors was based in Florida, and I knew the company well. The president of our company approached me one day and asked me for my thoughts on a proposal he was considering. He had visited the area where our Florida competitor was located and was considering purchasing a facility nearby.
Our business competition was having some financial difficulty, and the president’s logic was that if he purchased a facility in the area and hired some of the competitor’s key employees, we might be able to literally “kill the competition” by putting them out of business. We could then purchase the competitor’s facility and assets for pennies on the dollar and assimilate their customer base into ours. It would be a tremendous win for us.
Healthy Business Competition Means Growth
When he asked me what I thought of his idea, I told him that I thought it was the wrong way to go. My attitude has always been that I want to beat the competition – but I want to do it fair and square. If I can win by producing a better product, more cost effectively, and in less time, I am all for that. But it never made sense to me to kick the competition when they are down – and I told the president that was what he was about to do.
When he asked what I would do with this “opportunity,” I told him that I would schedule a meeting with the competitor and put my cards on the table. I would explain to them that I was aware of the challenges they were facing, but that I had no vested interest in seeing them go out of business. I would then begin to explore synergies between our businesses that might lead to a sharing of technology and resources – and that might create a win-win for everyone involved.
Business Competition Is A Good Thing
Many organizations look at business competition as being an inherently bad thing. I think it is tremendously positive for the following reasons:
- Being in a market that has competition is usually an indicator that there are plenty of opportunities and customers.
- Getting involved in an established market with competition is almost always better and more cost effective than trying to create a new market.
- Business Competition keeps you on your toes. It’s the juice that powers innovation, ongoing improvement, cost reduction, and improved speed to market.
Take the time to re-evaluate your business competition – and to be thankful for the markets in which you have the opportunity to effectively compete and win business.