What to do if a competitor is stealing your customers

Early in my career I managed a retail store in a small town. There were only two such stores in town – mine and the competitor’s, and we worked just down the street from each other. For the most part, we each had our own customers but once in a while there was cross-over. His customers would come to my store and mine would go to his. Sometimes I’d see long-time customers of mine at his store and it was dismaying, but I know the reverse is true as well.

Competition is good for business and it’s fun. But it can also be cut throat (even when you maintain a professional, legal approach to your competitiveness).

Although you don’t always know when a competitor is stealing your customers, sometimes you do. Here’s what to do if your competitors are stealing your customers.

NOTE: When I say “stealing” I don’t mean it in an illegal way. There are rules and laws that companies need to play by and I’m making the assumption that both you and your competitor are in fact remaining compliant. When I say “stealing” I mean that your customers are going to your competitors and those competitors are happily serving them.

So here’s what to do…

  • First, decide if the customers are worth the effort. Some customers are not worth the effort. I recall one customer who threatened to go to the competition and it was welcome news to my ears because he bought from me so irregularly and was such a ridiculous amount of work that letting him go freed me up to serve more of my better customers.
  • Build a relationship with your customers. Don’t just tell them that they’re important to you (which is what most businesses do), show your customers that they’re important to you by taking an interest in their lives. For professionals like real estate agents and financial advisors (and some other similar professions), I always recommend that you truly get to know your customers. Send them birthday cards and call them. Send them flowers on their anniversary. If they play on a sports league, go to their games and cheer them on. Don’t be a stalker but be a friend. Check out these 61 questions to strengthen your client relationships and build loyalty.
  • Remind your customers of the value you provide. This is a huge complaint I have with a lot of companies (although if I were honest with myself I’d have to admit that I’m probably just as guilty of this). Once your customers are sold on purchasing from you, most businesses stop selling. But you have to continually “resell” to your existing customers and remind them why they’re buying from you. Otherwise they make the mistake of assuming that your competitor is exactly like you… and as soon as your competitor offers something cheaper, then loyalty is at risk.
  • Wow your customers. Truly wow them by shocking them with how unbelievable your service is. (Hint: This is rarely done).
  • Be proactive. Don’t wait for your customers to come to you. Go to them and help them see that they need to buy more of whatever you’re selling.
  • Constantly ask your customers how you can help. You may find more ways to extend your own products or services but you might not… helping your customers might mean simply understanding what challenges they have in life and making introductions to others who can help them.

The worrisome truth is: Competitors are stealing your customers because you aren’t demonstrating the most important thing: That you are indispensable. Demonstrate that you’re indispensable and prove it over and over again and your competition will eat your dust.

Too many business say they WOW their customers… but few actually do

I hear a lot of businesses talk about giving “WOW” levels of service. But I just don’t see it all that often.

I think we’re at a point now where businesses say that they’re committed to WOW levels of service only because it’s expected that they say it – as if it “WOW Service” is the default text in every website template.

I’ve railed against the assertion of giving “great service” before and I think a similar thing is happening to the word “WOW”. Businesses are devaluing the term because they’re overusing it but falling short on what it really means to WOW customers.

What does “WOW” service really mean?

WOW service should mean that you are delivering a level of service that is so unexpected and shocking that customers exclaim “WOW!”

But what it’s come to mean is: businesses are delivering exactly the same level of service that they always do, which doesn’t really set them apart from the competition and definitely doesn’t WOW the customer.

Does your WOW service really WOW?

  • As the prospective customer moves through your sales funnel, do they express surprise at how much value you give away prior to the sale?
  • During the transaction, does the customer express surprise at how great of a deal they’re getting?
  • After the transaction, does the customer express surprise at how much you continue to serve them even after they’ve already paid?

You need to answer yes to at least one of these (and preferably all three) if you are going to truthfully claim to WOW your customers.

The very best business advice I’ve ever received

There’s a lot of business advice out there. What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

I can’t think of better advice than this: Solve a problem.

It seems almost too simple but I can’t think of a better way to start and grow a business than simply to solve a problem.

Every successful business solves a problem. Sure, the problems that each business solves may vary in its severity and impact on our lives but they still solve a problem. The local donut shop solves a very different problem than a life insurance company, and you could argue that the problem solved by a donut shop isn’t quite as severe or impactful as the problem solved by insurance.

This simple business advice has 3 specific applications, at least one of which will apply to you right now and can help grow your business dramatically:

3 IMMEDIATE ACTIONS

  1. Your business doesn’t solve a problem. If your business is struggling, there’s a chance that you don’t actually solve a problem. Perhaps you’ve started a business that is more of a passion project or hobby, and you might even have a couple of customers come in who share the same interest. But if you don’t have enough customers, you might not actually solve a problem. Can youarticulate what problem you solve? If you can’t, take a look at the customers who have come through the door and the reasons that they buy.
  2. You don’t know what problem you solve. Hopefully you do solve a problem. If your customer base is inconsistent and it fluctuates in terms of both income and profitability then there’s a good chance that you solve a problem but don’t really know what that problem is. Ask your customers why they buy from you.
  3. You don’t effectively communicate the problem or the solution. Often, marketing is focused on what you do rather than the problem and your solution. (This is the classic features-versus-benefits problem that exists in a lot of marketing). It’s common but, fortunately, it’s also the easiest to solve of the three I’ve listed here. Your marketing needs to hammer home the problem and establish its severity to your audience, and then your marketing needs to build a case for why your solution provides the best value to them. (And if you’re already doing this then it’s just a matter of doing more of it and doing itbetter.

If you want to grow your business (and what business owner doesn’t???) then one of these 3 actions will apply to you.

Business is a battle between fuzziness and clarity

As a business owner, you face two constant pressures: the pressure to be fuzzy and the pressure to have clarity. If you want to run a business that survives and succeeds, you need to get comfortable with the tension between these two approaches and you need to be comfortable with never fully achieving either one.

FUZZINESS AND CLARITY: WHAT ARE THEY?

Fuzziness in your business is the sloppy, draw-outside-the-lines, messiness of your business. I don’t necessarily mean disorganization or unprofessionalism; I mean the fuzziness that comes with trying new things, putting new ideas out into the world to see what happens, attempting a new marketing approach, testing a new product or service, working with a client in a new way or under a new type of agreement. Each of these scenarios (and many others I haven’t listed) creates a sense of fuzziness — a type of “clutter” in your business because each one creates new challenges and obstacles.

Clarity in your business is all about a smooth-flowing, predictable, almost-entirely-automated sales funnel that you create, refine, and then run without paying a lot of attention to. This approach strives to create predictability and balance and a nice clean straight line from finding clients to earning profit.

FUZZINESS AND CLARITY: WHICH IS BETTER?

Both realities will be present in most businesses. And it kind of works like a pendulum: At either end of the pendulum’s swing, that’s the fuzziness of your business. And the center point of the pendulum’s swing is the clarity. You will often see your business swing from having more fuzziness to more clarity to more fuzziness to more clarity to more fuzziness to more clarity to more fuzziness… and on and on like that.

You need both in your business: You need fuzziness to grow. That fuzziness is the the stretching of your business beyond the boundaries that you once thought were possible. You need clarity to get more profitable. That clarity is the refinement of your systems and processes to become efficient in what you do. You need both! A business that is too fuzzy for too long can grow but will risk burning out the owner, failing to serve customers properly, and may not earn sufficient ongoing revenue or enough profit to make it worthwhile. A business that has too much clarity for too long risks remaining stagnant and although they’re profitable, they may run out of customers, or they may miss out on innovation and industry developments and competitors could bypass them.

In my experience, new businesses start out with a lot of fuzziness. The founder tries new stuff, bashes their way into the business world with bold ideas and a whole bunch of enthusiasm. After a few sales and some early revenue generation, they start to swing that pendulum closer toward clarity as the determine what works and what doesn’t. But after a while, new opportunities open up or they want to grow and the fuzziness returns. And the longer a business lasts, the more clarity and “stasis” the owner wants to achieve.

But staying too fuzzy for too long or having too much clarity for too long is dangerous. You need to swing between each reality — sometimes having more of one than the other.

HOW DO YOU GET MORE OF EACH

How do you get fuzzier?

  • Create a new product
  • Test a new marketing method
  • Change how you sell and who you sell to
  • Create new deals with customers
  • Double your sales efforts or hire a sales person
  • Do something bold and daring that your competitors wouldn’t do

How do you get clarity?

  • Build great relationships with your existing clients
  • Find ways to be more efficient
  • Build and refine your sales funnel
  • Automate your sales funnel
  • Perfect your existing marketing, sales, and delivery techniques

Fuzziness and clarity — they’re two realities that will always exist in your business… and should always be there. It’s tempting to try and sacrifice one for the other but you need both, and you need to get comfortable living in the tension between these two realities.

Emotion: Does it have a place in business?

It’s funny when you notice something that becomes a pattern… Kind of like when you learn a new word and then you start hearing that word all the time. Once you see it in one place, you see it everywhere.

The same thing has happened to me with the following concept…

  • I’m doing some consulting with a company that is going through a period of rapid growth. They are expanding in several different and exciting ways, and all this change is mostly good but it also creates some challenges. While talking to the owners yesterday, they said to me that they are trying to take emotion out of the situation so they only deal with things logically.
  • I’m also writing a book for a client and he talks about the value of making decisions based purely on a logical decision-making criteria versus basing your decisions on in-the-moment emotion.
  • And in my personal life, I have a family member who is considering the positives and negatives of a fairly big change in their life. And in a conversation they had yesterday, they said to me: “I know the logical reasons for the change but it’s the emotional reasons that are holding me back right now.”
  • I was watching a TV show that took place during the suffrage movement, and the argument made in the show (and presumably in real life, at the time) was that men were logical and should be the ones to vote while women were emotional and therefore not equipped to make good voting decisions.

In each case, I encountered someone who sought to remove emotion from the picture so they could only look at things logically.

At first glance, this idea of logic trumping emotion sounds good: Logic is clinical, analytical, focused (Hey, didn’t SuperTramp sing about this?)… and in our modern, scientific society, this approach is highly respected. We’re advanced enough to know that we aren’t guided by fate or luck but that our own decisions shape our future. We also think that applying 100% logic and 0% emotion to every decision will give us the very best outcome in every situation; that the application of a scientific approach will, by its very nature, take us to the best choice.

But is that true?

Until recently I probably would have said it was. I’ve always been kind of a studious academic kind of person who appreciates a logical, analytical approach to things. (Well, most of the time. My high school science teacher might disagree). But I’ve been rethinking it a bit and yesterday’s encounters have forced me to articulate my thoughts.

Here’s what I’m thinking about…

IS LOGIC THE OPPOSITE OF EMOTION?

I think this is a big part of the puzzle. We tend to think that logic is the opposite of emotion. On the one hand, you have a logical, analytical approach. On the other hand, you have an emotive, impassioned approach. One is step by step, the other is a frenzy of feeling.

I don’t think that’s true, though. Logical approaches can’t always arrive at a conclusion through a step by step process. Logic is true for a moment but as the world changes, the logic that decisions are built on will change as well. Take the example of my family member contemplating a large move. For many years, their current location was right. It was the logical approach for their situation. But now the situation has changed so the logic needs to change. Therefore, logic isn’t as clean and as precise as we want it to be.

We tend to think of logic being driven by our brain while emotions are driven by our heart, which, scientifically, is of course not true. Both logic and emotion come from the same place.

We tend to think that logic and emotion compete with each other. But do they? Sometimes it seems that way (as is the case in all four encounters I had recently) but it’s not always the case. Your marriage, your decision to have children, your decision for a career, and the purchase of your home (to randomly choose four HUGE decisions we make in life) are often born out of a congruence between logic and emotion. For example, logic says: “This person will make a good life partner” and emotion says: “I love this person” — so there’s congruence between the two. So there are times when logic and emotion work together.

(Admittedly, there are often times when emotion and logic are not congruent — when there’s a logical approach to something and an emotional approach to something. In those situations, we often think we need to defer to the logical approach.)

I think if logic and emotion were truly opposites of each other, they would more often work at cross purposes — logic would tell us to do one thing and emotion would tell us to do another… way more frequently than they do. And although that does happen (sometimes too frequently), it doesn’t happen consistently.

So I don’t think we can say logic is the opposite of emotion. They’re two approaches we take or two viewpoints we have or two “lenses” through which we see the world. They come from the same place (our minds) and they sometimes take divergent paths (but sometimes they don’t).

Which leads to my next point…

IS IT POSSIBLE TO REMOVE EMOTION FROM DECISIONS?

Name a decision in your life in which logic made 100% influence on the choice and emotion had 0% influence.

I think you’ll have a hard time finding one. Logic and emotion are intertwined in every decision. Sure, one usually wins out over the other and there are times when you deny one in favor of the other. But each was still present; each one still influenced the decision in some way.

Even a sale that is made logically is really made emotionally first. Ask any salesperson or copywriter. You always sell to emotions first and foremost and then you back it up with logic. Even when you’re selling to a large corporation, you’re still selling to the emotions of the decision-makers first. That’s a sales 101 concept that has stood the test of time.

We all have logic and emotion — both are present in, and shape, every decision we make from the largest to the smallest. The choices we make throughout the day are guided by whether they are fully congruent or whether we choose to listen to one and ignore the other.

EMOTIONS ALREADY GUIDE SO MUCH OF OUR LIVES

On a piece of paper, create two columns — one that says “Logic” and one that says “Emotion”. Now start listing decisions you made in your life in which one trumped the other. Again, I think it’s impossible to say that any decision was made solely on the basis of one of these influencers over the other. But I think you’ll often end up with ideas like “Career, house purchase” in the Logic side and “Spouse, children” in the Emotion side. We believe our logic guides us on the practical issues while emotion guides us on relational issues.

But I think you’ll agree that logic and emotion present in all of our decisions. And we’re okay with emotion being the dominant influencer in very important decisions (that are often relational in nature). So it’s not like we don’t trust emotions to guide us properly. In fact, I’d argue that we trust our emotions to guide us during our most important decisions (my emotion-dominant choice of a spouse is considerably more important than my logic-dominant choice of a car).

Furthermore, we’re emotional creatures who often measure the quality of a day by how happy or sad or angry (or whatever) we were that day.

We can’t suck emotion out of our lives.

So if that’s the case, what place do emotions have in business?

SHOULD EMOTION HAVE AN EQUIVALENT PLACE TO LOGIC IN BUSINESS?

I think they should.

Emotion is the weather vane of our satisfaction. When things are going well, we’re happy. When they’re not going well, we’re upset. Our goal in business should often be (within reason) to pursue our own satisfaction by increasing the things that make us happy and decreasing the things that make us upset. Negative emotions point to problems we need to address right away. The more acute the emotion, the bigger the problem that needs to be addressed.

Emotions are connected to our intuition. Anticipation and anxiety are both emotions that grow out of our intuition of what something is going to be like.

Logical and emotional alignment feels right. When that happens, we feel confident in our decisions and actions.

SO, SHOULD WE DO BUSINESS IN A FRENZY OF EMOTION?

Logic and emotion both come out of the same place yet sometimes they take divergent paths.

But I think we often try to deny emotion in favor of logic… and we shouldn’t: We can’t ignore or eliminate emotion entirely from any decision, plus emotion gives us an excellent guide to how things are going.

  • So, when our logic and emotion align, I believe we can move forward with confidence.
  • And, when our logic and emotion do not align, we should take that as an indicator to zoom in more closely and inspect the situation. Rather than deny emotion and go with the logical choice, we need to accept that something is not right and we should try to discover what piece of the puzzle is missing that is causing the misalignment.