Reading your competitor’s annual report, researching them online and gathering all their promotional materials will provide valuable information, but meeting them face-to-face will provide genuine insight into what drives their business model.
Strangely, we seem to avoid coming face-to-face with competitors. The slightly awkward greetings at the joint tender briefings or trade-shows suggest we are not comfortable around those with whom we compete.
Perhaps there is an opportunity to reverse this behaviour and initiate a meeting with one or more competitors.
If you need an excuse, you could propose a discussion about industry-wide issues, regulations that impact both your businesses or simply the opportunity for possible collaboration in areas where neither of you currently operate.
The initial topic does not really matter. It’s just an opportunity for you to watch and listen closely to what the other person has to say.
Try to get a hint at their values and what drives them. Listen to what they talk about, and don’t talk about.
Meet on their premises so you can see what is on their desk or bookshelves. All this information gathering will offer some sense about the motives, aspirations and style of your competitor.
Consider in advance what you will and won’t disclose during this meeting. By all means be proud of your organisation and its products or services, but bragging or showing off is unwise.
Ask more questions to encourage them to speak more than you. However, don’t be evasive. Try to be open, factual and friendly without disclosing any sensitive information or trade secrets.
One more small step in the next 24 hours
Book separate appointments to meet each of your top three competitors.
Try, if possible, to meet on their premises or, if that is not possible, select a neutral venue.
Do some homework before each visit so you know something about their major products and services, and details of any recent public announcements. This will provide some potential conversation topics if required.
What impact could this action have on your leadership success?
How likely is it you could implement this action successfully?