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B2B Marketing – The Most Dangerous Competitors Are Unseen

In battle, the element of surprise can mean that an overwhelmingly outnumbered army can defeat a larger opponent.

Last week I sat in on a presentation hosted by Social CRM solution provider Avectra. Avectra works with associations providing software that helps with member management, collaboration and communication. They view their solutions as ‘weapons in the race for relevance’ referencing the book (amazon affiliate link) Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations.

An interesting suggestion was brought up. Let’s say that you are a professional association for B2B business owners. You probably view other professional associations as competitors – will a B2B business owner who is also a CPA join your association or opt to join an association for CPAs?

We all tend to think of the competition as looking a lot like us – having the same characteristics, having similar roots and experience. But what if the real competition, the kind of competition that could put us out of business, was from a different quarter altogether? In fact, we may not even be aware of them – not even know they exist. Or we may be aware of them, but we don’t just don’t see them as a competitor.

Mark Yohai brought up the example of LinkedIn being a competitor for associations. I bet most associations have never viewed LinkedIn as a competitor – in fact I was intrigued by his suggestion. He made a strong case that was further strengthened by statement made by LinkedIn. They look to be your go-to resource for you professional life. They aspire to be a virtual professional association.

Currently membership is free. There are a multitude of groups, created by members for niched, geographic, and professional segments.

As Yohai pointed out, associations were the original social networks, predating social media, even predating the Internet. But in order to remain relevant, they will have to begin comparing themselves to untraditional competitors like LinkedIn.

Who are the new competitors in the professional services world? One of my clients shared with me that the publisher they represent asked them to provide a summary of all the deals they had lost to competitors, a list of reasons why (price, product features, etc.) and the revenue impact.

My first reaction was – this doesn’t take into account what I suspect to be a much larger revenue impact, not being invited to compete in the first place, that is, not even making the short list – which was the subject of my article When You Don’t Know You’re Taking a Beating.

Another client shared with me that when he is working with prospects, their biggest fear in making a decision or investment is the realization that they don’t know what they don’t know. The fear that they are making a decision with incomplete data and missing something that isn’t on their radar that has the power to flatten them. It’s a well-founded fear.

Keep your eyes open and cultivate curiosity. Social Media is a great way to watch for trends. Ask questions. Notice what other businesses are doing. Pay attention to growing businesses – are they utilizing services, solutions and tools that are different, that aren’t on your radar?

What are some of the ways you look for new competitors?

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