Paying Attention to Competition

Right now, if I asked you, could you name 10 competitors? Could you rattle them off with ease? Because you've been paying attention to the competition?

Here's another way to ask the same question.

If I asked you to tell me how your competition has been changing their pricing or their marketing messages over the last 2 years, could you tell me? Could you break down when they changed things and even give me a guess for why they did what they did?

Yes, you have competition.

It cracks me up when someone tells me they don't have any competition. I remember when I said the same things. But I was wrong. And when someone tells me they don't have any (serious) competition, I have to decide if I want to have that discussion.

Here's the truth. You have competition. It might not be an exact copy of what you're doing. But prospects who consider you and don't choose you – they still find alternatives.

Those alternatives, even if they have a different business model, are your competition.

So let's agree on this: you have competition.

No, you shouldn't care about them.

The worst think you can do, however, is obsess over your competition. Sometimes the pendulum swings too far from the one side (“we have no competition”) to the other side (complete obsession).

Don't do it.

You need to play your game. Your way. With the strategy that accounts for your strengths. And it's really rare if you and your team have the exact same strengths as your competitor. So copying them won't likely help you.

The reality is that you can admit that you have them, and still not care about them. You can acknowledge their existence without wanting to do everything they way they're doing it.

Yes, you should track their changes.

So here is where things get tricky. I want to encourage you to track everything, even if you're not obsessing with them. Kind of crazy, right?

But most folks may acknowledge their competition and then write them off (different business model, shady marketing tactics, etc.). And when they do that, they stop paying attention to competition. And that's when mistakes get made.

I want to encourage you to pay attention to your competition, not because you need to care about them or what they're doing. I want you to do it because you need to know how the market you're in is changing.

I've been in the WordPress space for 16 years, but only in the hosting space for almost 5. In those five years, there's been a lot of changes.

There was a time when customers had to pay for SSL certs. Or they had to pay for migrations. Or they had to pay overage fees for lots of traffic.

Everything changes. And I'd look pretty silly if I was talking to a prospect and I said, well you don't have to pay for an SSL cert with us. They'd look at me with that, “are you serious right now?” face.

So what should you track?

If I'm saying you should pay attention to your competition, what am I suggesting you track? Here's a brief list of my top ten.

  1. Their product pricing (including all their plans)
  2. The constraints with each plan (xx amount of sites, etc.)
  3. Their renewal approach (including discounts)
  4. What features come with which plan
  5. What are they naming their plans (and what does that say about their targets)
  6. How many customers they have
  7. How many employees they have
  8. What themes exist in their content
  9. How many clicks to make something happen in their UX
  10. How many emails they send for onboarding

I don't care if a competitor changes prices. Or if they change the name of their plans. It's not a big deal if they grow or shrink their employee count. I'm not monitoring and tracking these things so I can talk bad about my competition.

Instead, what I'm telling you is that all of this tells me how a market is changing.

There was a time when we said WordPress was easy. That was back when the admin of WordPress had 10 menu items on the left. That's not the case anymore.

The other day I looked at how many menu items were present (and hidden) at Shopify and how many were present (and hidden) at BigCommerce (and did you notice their homepage changed again?). Thankfully WooCommerce was right in the middle.

But knowing what people are experiencing helps me think about how things are changing and what I may have to do to make things easier for our customers at Nexcess.

No, you don't have to copy them.

With all that said, let me end with another thing I think we can agree on – you don't have to copy your competition. They can go left while you go right. They can go low when you go high. You can chart your own path.

It's hard because you want to fit in. And that will drive you to pay attention to your competition in the wrong way. Trying to match and be similar.

Don't do it. Focus on and embrace what makes you stand out, what makes you unique.

But don't ignore your competition. It will end up with you saying silly things about them that aren't true. Or silly things about yourself (like that you don't have any competition).

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