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Everyone has heard a version of this story…

Two campers are drinking their morning coffee when a mad bear comes running up the road toward them. One camper stays in his seat tying his running shoes while the other takes off running in his flip-flops while screaming “why are you tying your shoes – you can’t outrun the bear?”

The other camper with laced up shoes responds, “I don’t have to outrun the bear – I only have to outrun you.”

Most think the moral of the story is success is about being just good enough to beat the other guy.

In today’s world just beating the other guy “isn’t good enough.”

Too much time is spent in strategy and operations planning about beating the competition. Organizations study the competition, measure the differences between what the competition does, how they do it and the prices they charge to understand the differences.

The logic seems to be if we are just a little faster, cheaper, stronger or lighter the market will reward us with the business and the bear will get the other guy.

Blockbuster was bigger, had more titles, had better checkout systems and better specials than any of the other rental stores. Sony had the best, most durable, and easiest to use Walkman in the market. Right now, JC Penny, Sears, Kohls, Kmart, Target, and Walmart are all trying to be faster than the other guy, while the market screams “we don’t care – we want Amazon.”

So is it possible that Kmart’s Blue Light special and Kohls Cash are better than Sears 100-year-old customer treatment model and the bear just gets Sears or is none of this enough to save any of the three?

Is it possible that the old days of battles between competing CEOs and headquarters organizations have little or no value to the customer? Is it possible that the customers see Blue Light Specials, Kohls Cash and Sears Easter sales as different forms of manipulation that all reduce the price and what the customer wants is a fair price, simple return process, purchase from the smartphone and predictable deliver to the house?

In the business to business world, do customers care which company has the most features they don’t know how to use or the most trucks on the road or has been in business the longest or has the most employees?

Is there any chance the customers want someone who understands the customer today, where the customer wants to go tomorrow is spending all those resources that used to be focused on beating the competition to delight the customers today and value-added bridges to tomorrow?

Customers don’t value drug companies who have the most drugs on the market – they want drug companies with affordable drugs that make the most people well.

Innovation, customer intimacy, high value, empathy, partnership and thought leadership are all customer focused terms that have little or nothing to do with strategic or tactical focus on competition, so why is so much resource applied to competition?

My guess is we focus on the competition for the same reason the camper didn’t focus on the bear or on not being in a situation where they had to worry about the bear. It is easier to keep doing what everyone has been doing for decades and if the economy is good there is no threat from an angry bear.

When the economy gets bad we still get to keep doing what we have always done as long as we are better than just one of the other campers. Being better than one camper and continuing to do what we have always done seems so much easier than trying to understand and bring value to customers.

Stop just trying to outrun one competitor and focus all that “competitive” resource on partnering with customers. Don’t follow Blockbuster, Sears, Kmart and all those talking about competition.

Become Amazon, Uber, Airbnb or Netflix. Don’t just say words like innovation, customer intimacy, high value, empathy, partnership and thought leadership – go find some customers and practice these words in the real world and you will never have to worry about the bear.


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