We all have that one competitor we spend too much time thinking about…

You imagine their success, sitting back on Friday afternoons sipping champagne after another record week.

You hawk-eye their website and their marketing, observing what they’re doing, cringing because you think theirs is better than yours.

Competitor obsession is a poison. As it works its way through your mind the damage starts to get done, you:

  • Start making decisions reactively to what they do and say
  • Waste copious amounts of time over-analysing everything they do
  • Take your eye off of your own end-game

We feel compelled to look at what our competition is doing, in any race, because we are hard-wired to WIN after-all… Competing is part of life – we compete in school, in grades to get into Uni, in job applications, in sports games, in courting, in bidding for a house, in getting the last loaf of bread at the supermarket.

When an awareness of your competition becomes an obsession though, that’s where the trouble starts.

If you’re in a car race and are constantly looking in the mirror to see what “they” are doing, you’ll lose sight of what’s before you.

You begin to drive your race based on what you see them do, and it probably doesn’t take much imagination to predict the outcome of that metaphor.

The same goes in an Olympic swimming race, you’ll occasionally see them look over their shoulder to check where they sit. When the really obsessive swimmer starts to look constantly with every breath they take, listen to what the commentators say… They begin to distract themselves from what they should be doing: swimming their hardest and winning the race.

What does competitor obsession look like (internally)

I think how obsession manifests into behaviors is obvious, and if you’re guilty of it you’re probably already nodding your head. Instead I think it’s better of identifying what is happening inside of us.

There’s a whole range of emotions at play that drive our competitiveness will to WIN, just like there’s emotions that tip us over the edge and into obsession – both stimulative (pride/ego, anger, frustration, jealousy) and depressive (anxiety, doubt, despair).

Our emotions are meant to come and go, a FYI signal to our mind, but when they stick around they start to cause problems. Allow yourself to notice the emotions you’re feeling around this obsessive behavior, and that will allow you to let go of them.

Some people think they work best when they hold onto an emotion, especially a stimulative emotion like anger – it fires us up, right? It also causes us to start making mistakes, eats away at our focus, and leads to decisions being made based on that emotion. In business, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Once you’ve recognized and let go of those emotions, approach the situation logically. Identify what level of awareness you want on a competitor, remove assumptions from it, and make decisions only based on facts.

Stay focused on your own end goal

The Olympic swimmer is the perfect example of this – they’re in a race of who can swim the fastest in a straight line. There’s no variations to strategy or tactics to employ, it’s do your absolute best and hope it was better than the other guy.

Perhaps an awareness of where their competitors are in the race does kindle a little bit of determination that sparks them on a bit, turns 100% up to 105%. At what point though does determination turn into frustration that they’re still catching up, then frustration into doubt and desperation?

In business, you have your own goals. These are completely independent of what your competitors are doing or have done, they’re your goals.

Recognise that when you’re looking at your competitors, you’ve turned your head away from your goal.

How long can you continue to drive in the right direction when you’re looking out the side window?

Don’t let yourself be distracted, focus on what’s most important to your business – and I guarantee that the level you have been obsessing over that competitor is NOT important.

Don’t make decisions based on assumptions

This is the killer, most things you interpret about your competition is based on assumptions. Unless you have some secret spy in their business feeding you information, you can’t really know for sure how well they’re doing.

Just a perception that they’re doing better than you and then wanting to model after them is dangerous, because you don’t know what you don’t know.

It’s not uncommon that I have clients saying “They’re doing this, why aren’t we? Make it happen, I want to beat them!”

and they’re referencing a keyword, say for an AdWords campaign, that we may have already tested, optimized, and paused for poor-performance.

What’s going on here?

The client has searched something they think is important, have seen a competitor constantly #1, then wanted to beat that.

There’s no consideration to whether that keyword is even relevant, if that keyword will even bring in ROI, what it’s going to cost to beat them, etc. In AdWords especially, chasing after the #1 spot is a great way to chew through your budget.

Assumptions were made, egos were challenged, and potentially bad decisions were made. Keep your ego and emotions in check, and make decisions based on facts and not assumptions.

How to practice non-obsessive competitor awareness

To play the devils advocate to myself, it is good to have a level of competitor awareness. You often see posts about “you don’t have competition” but I disagree, it’s naive to think you’re the only business a potential customer is evaluating.

Firstly, keep in mind that your competition is relevant to the channel your customer is exploring. If you had a bricks-and-mortar business two doors down from a competitor, then people who are window-shopping would be comparing your two businesses. If they were on Google researching, then whomever else they find there is your competition.

Your competition is not the one that manages to get under your skin, so firstly identify (properly) who is your competitor in which places. Then identify what’s important to know about that competition in that space.

  • Separate yourself from the research into your competitors, have someone else do the grunt work and just report their findings to you.
  • Use tools to get more factual data rather than working off of assumptions.
  • Never ever make decisions based on your competitors positioning or actions when you feel you’re being influenced by emotion(s).
  • Learn or outsource decisions you need to make that are influenced by things you don’t know. If you’re not sure how AdWords Ad Rank system works then learn it or outsource the decision/action on how to “get number one spot” on a keyword.
  • Lastly, have your own goals and your own strategy. You’ll never win by copying the rest, model the parts that work and innovate in your own business to do better. Use your competitor awareness as a data source to make smart decisions on your own strategy.
  • Stay focused on your own end game.

Are you competition obsessed? What are the naughty behaviours you catch yourself doing?

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