After a multi-month hiatus, I’m ready to slowly get back into posting on this blog. Look for new posts to start coming in slowly until I get my mojo back! To see what I’ve been up to over my hiatus, go here.
It’s high noon as a tumbleweed blows across a quiet dirt roadway. You’re the local tech sheriff, patrolling your town of customers to make sure all is safe and secure. Suddenly, through a sun-soaked dust cloud you see a shadowy figure approach. It’s Blue Screen Bart, looking to take over as sheriff.
“The nerve!”, you think. Everyone in this town was getting along fine, who was Bart to think he could ride in and stake claim to resolving their technology woes? There’s only room in this town for one of us!
That’s how I felt a few months ago after learning of the arrival of a competitor to my neighborhood. Late last year I posted on this blog about how I used a hyper-local marketing campaign to target members of my immediate community as customers. That campaign combined with word of mouth have been my ONLY means of acquiring new customers for over a year, and so far it’s worked out very well.
With the arrival of a new tech in town, however, the exclusive relationship I had with my community felt violated. The new tech had one of his friends, a previous resident of the community, post a bulletin on the same board that I used to introduce myself, with a recommendation for the new guy’s services.
At first I was furious and wanted to immediately post a response about how rude it was to post about a new tech in the neighborhood when he already knew I had been servicing the area for almost a year. I knew this was an emotional response…so I decided to sleep on it.
The next day I crafted a well thought-out, cordial, reply to the message about the new tech. Here’s my response (with names changed):
Thanks for the recommendation! Jim sounds like a great guy and I look forward to having him become a member of the community. It’s good to know that we will have two experienced neighborhood “computer guys” to service our community. As computers become more and more a part of our daily lives, the
demand for qualified computer technicians will only increase.
There’s room for the both of us here, as I would feel much better referring my neighbors to another member of the community if I’m not available. I run my computer repair business part-time, and there may be times when I’m not able to respond quickly to a computer emergency of a fellow neighbor. With two technicians available, there’s a better chance that one of us will be around to
address the problem. That’s a win for the community!
I never did hear from Bob or Jim about my offer. In fact, I received a few replies from community members who felt my response was very gracious and that they would still consider me their go-to “computer guy”. I also heard from one customer that she tried contacting us both at the same time, but she never heard back from Jim.
I’ve learned a few lessons from my first brush with direct competition. I obviously have other competitors out there, but I’ve never actually had to deal with them directly soliciting my customers in such an intimate venue as a community message board. Here are my key take-aways from this experience:
- No Mater What, Keep Your Cool - Jumping head first into a situation using your heightened emotions as your guide is rarely a good thing. This is how malicious and destructive competition gets started. When you let emotions control your action in business, your focus narrows and you’re not able to see the big picture. I took some time away from my run-in with “Blue Screen Bart” to think about it in order to better address the situation with a cool head.
- Focus On Your Strengths – You’re competitor is likely not going to be better than you at EVERYTHING. Try focusing on what makes your service unique. Do you have good rapport with your customers? Are you a data recovery ninja? Can you teach a monkey how to create pivot tables? Continue to focus on your business. I continued to respond to my customers in a timely, friendly manner and that turned out to be what set me apart from my competition.
- Reach Out To Your Competition – You’d be surprised how your competition can turn into your greatest ally. Many tech consultants are afraid to go on vacation because they don’t want to leave their customers hanging in the event of an emergency. Partner with another local tech and agree to cover for one another when the other are out of town. I reached out to my competitor in my email, but I never heard back from him. That may happen, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
- It’s All About The Customer - The most important lesson is to always focus on your customer. Never let a squabble with your competition spill over into your customer relationships. Along those lines, try not to bad mouth your competitors to your customers, it can make you look petty and desperate. Focus on providing them the best possible experience you can, and then some, and you’ll probably be well ahead of the majority of your competition.
What experiences have you had with direct competition? Have you tried different tactics than mine? Have you tried establishing a relationship with your competition? How did it turn out?