Ask This Question to Beat Your Competition

Business is a hard competition. Sometimes it’s winner take all. Often, it’s dividing an existing market. Once in a while, it’s sharing an expanding market.

Regardless, any business team worth its mettle is spending at least some time determining how to go to market better, maintain share leadership, increase share or build a new business. They’re also thinking about how to beat their competitors. That means you!

An executive at Dick’s Sporting Goods demonstrates how to practically boil down such critical strategic and competitor assessments. Steve Miller, SVP of Strategy, Ecommerce and Analytics, asks this powerful question, per Lisa Lacy writing in Adweek:

  • “If there was a store that would open next to us that would scare us, what would that store look like?”

This is simple. Direct. Easy for everyone to understand. So incredibly useful.

Do you and your team think this way? Do you ask yourselves this type of powerful, direct question? Or, are you hung up in fancy, time-consuming exercises that nobody likes to do and no one will look at afterwards?

The Dick’s question is a good example of “scenario planning,” an approach that I’ve found helpful in my career. When organized properly, this type of activity is practical and effective, and can easily be repeated as necessary. Some related question examples:

  • “Wow. If our competitor did X, that would really scare us. What proactive steps should we take for competitive protection?”
  • “You know, if we took action A, we’d really increase sales and profits and position ourselves for sustained success.”
  • What do we expect our competitors to do in the next six months? How would we be prepared to act?

Framing your question(s) is critical for success, and how you do that depends on your particular business dynamics and personal style. You’ll want to create excitement and interest, though, so go with direct, conversational language.

For maximum effect, try this question:

  • “If we did X, we’d really drive our business forward and kick our competitor’s butt.”

Encourage your teams to adopt this type of business mindset for direct assessment, and both strategic and opportunistic thinking and action. Conduct regular sessions, whether informal or a bit more formal, to capture ideas and concerns, make improvements, and take advantage of opportunities.

Just remember, whether or not you think this way and ask these kind of questions, your competitors almost certainly are! They want to win now, too.

Harvey Chimoff is a customer-focused global business leader who connects marketing across the organization to drive performance and achieve business objectives. His B2B and CPG marketing expertise includes agribusiness, ingredients and food and beverage. Contact him at

Beware the Arrogance of Dismissing Competition

Sometimes it’s possible to lose sight of and/or minimize something really important:  the competition also wants to win.

Most marketing plans include discussion about the competition and/or a competitor analysis; and most new product gate processes require a competitive assessment as well.  Yet, smart people can fall into the trap of dismissing real competitive threats.  The latest example is a case where $26 beat $5 million.  How?  Read on.

A front-page news report last week provides a distressing case study about the pitfalls of underestimating the competition, and in this case the implications are more than just a change in market share.  They concern the safety of US and allied military forces overseas.  According to The Wall Street Journal, a simple $26 software program was used by enemy forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (competition) to gain access to live video surveillance feeds from unmanned Predator aircraft.  What’s startling, though, is the apparent dismissal that the enemy (competition) would be able to develop a capability to fight back against the $5 million unmanned aircraft.  Here is an excerpt from the news report:

  •  “The potential drone vulnerability lies in an unencrypted downlink between the unmanned craft and ground control.  The U.S. government has known about the flaw since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said.  But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.”  (emphasis added)

Predator Drone – photo from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. Web site

It’s one thing to not anticipate an event or course of action.  That can happen to the best of us.  It’s something altogether different to know about a threat and to dismiss it.  Yes, all business and marketing plans are based on assumptions.  But assumptions should be fact-based and built on learning from real events.  In this case, military planners and aircraft manufacturers should have known better than to dismiss enemy (competitor) capabilities.  This is especially true because of all the learning to the contrary that was available.  There is a tragic record of the enemy (competition) being creative (e.g., 9/11 tactics and implementation) and finding inexpensive solutions to complex problems (e.g., IED warfare – improvised explosive device – that has wrecked havoc on US and allied military forces).

There are always excuses (sometimes valid) and hindsight is 20-20, but in this case the benefit of foresight was available, but not acted upon.  Here’s one explanation for ignoring the enemy (competitive) threat:

  •  “Fixing the security gap would have caused delays, according to current and former military officials. It would have added to the Predator’s price. Some officials worried that adding encryption would make it harder to quickly share time-sensitive data within the U.S. military, and with allies.”


Don’t underestimate your competition and don’t ignore your weaknesses.  A determined competitor may very likely find a way to beat you on your business playing field.  At the same time, don’t allow perceived competitor strengths to cause paralysis of action either.  Move forward if you need to, but address and fix any issues along the way that might prevent success.   And be thankful during this holiday season that, in most cases, your business and marketing decisions do not have life and death consequences.

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.