By , on Market Research.

As a business owner involved with the day-in and day-out of running your business, it’s easy to forget that customers face many choices when it comes to shopping within their limited budgets.  In order to better communicate with customers to nudge them to shop with you, you’ve got to put yourself in their shoes.  Laraine Rodgers, President of The LR Group (www.TheLRGroup.net) calls this being “customer focused.”  Once you focus on your customers, you’ll realize that they do in fact  face many choices, including shopping with your competition.  You’ve got to set yourself apart from the competition, and that includes taking steps to get to know exactly who and what your competitors are.

When you’re intimately involved with your business, it’s obvious to you how your company or service is special.  Potential customers, however, who have never even heard of your company name, know nothing.  How can you communicate your uniqueness?  First, you’ve got to truly understand your competitive advantage, which requires getting to know your competitors intimately.  Five critical steps to take are outlined below:

1)  Check the yellow pages and other directories for companies in your industry.  How many competitors do you have?  Are they large companies, small companies, or independent professionals?  Make a note of the number of competing companies and their locations.  The more competitors you have, the harder it will be to create a marketing message that will set you apart.  If you have no competitors, you have to watch out:  Do you really want to go “where no [wo]man has gone before?” No competitors can mean “no market.”

2)  Read your competitors’ brochures, web sites and sales letters.  What benefits are they offering?  Who have their past clients been, and what do their testimonials say about your competitors?  Do you offer your potential customers the same benefits? Or do you offer other, more desirable benefits?

3)  What are your competitors’ methods of delivery and channels of distribution?  For example, coaching services can be offered one-on-one, or via telephone, audiotapes, teleclasses or even via books. Are your competitors delivering products or services in a more convenient method than you?  Can you offer the same or better service?

4)  Shop with your competitors.  How do their products or services offerings differ from yours?  Are their prices much higher or lower?  Does their location or web site get a lot of traffic (check www.alexa.com for web site traffic statistics)? Are the owners or sales representatives friendly and easy to contact by phone?  Do they respond to e-mails promptly?  Really get a feel for how your  competitors do business, and you’ll begin to understand how you can set yourself apart.

5)  Look for emerging and competing technologies.  New technologies can replace the goods and services you offer without your even being aware of it.  For example, business planning software can take the place of some business coaching services.  Online printing and mailing services,
offered by the U.S. Postal Service (www.usps.com) and ModernPostcards.Com, can take the place of marketing services previously provided by virtual assistants, desktop publishers and printers.  Are emerging technologies cutting into your market?

Once you really understand the competition, you’ll understand what you need to offer to compel customers and potential customers to buy your products and services.  You’ll also be less likely to take your customers for granted.  Create a two-way dialogue with your customers and potential customers so that you have the opportunity to communicate the true benefits they’ll receive from doing business with you.