Get in the Ring

Battle-Ready!

There are many ways to slaughter competitors. You can slam them in your ads, highlighting their weaknesses and your strengths. Or, if you run a retail operation, you can move across the street from a rival and lure its customers away.

In-your-face tactics are one way to take on your nemesis, but experts agree there's a better way: Creep up on the creep. Or, to quote that famous rabbit hunter Elmer Fudd: "Be vewy, vewy quiet."

Use your marketing plan to map out your competitive strategy. Read our marketing plan tutorial for help.

"Next to a battle-less victory, this is the ultimate way to fight," says Mark Joyner, CEO of search engine Aesop.com and author of the e-book 1,001 Killer Internet Marketing Tactics. Joyner, who worked in military intelligence for the Army in the Korean War, says, "Surprise is of such supreme importance that it makes strength almost insignificant. A small man with a knife could kill a Mike Tyson, if Mike didn't see him coming."

Stalking your competition is a matter of "business espionage," says Ray Vargo, associate director of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh. He contends you can't beat competitors if you don't know anything about them.

Send fake customers to your competitors, says Vargo, and have them register bogus complaints. "See how they react to the demands. Sometimes you can find out more about that business than the owner would probably like you to know."

Then take the battle to your competitors' suppliers. Talk to them, and find out how much volume your competitors are ordering from them and how often they send shipments. Park your car outside the competition's place of business and observe how often customers visit and how frequently suppliers make their rounds. "If you're not doing this on a regular basis, then you are not keeping in touch with the market," says Vargo. "You need to evaluate your competition consistently. You need to find out what materials they have [and keep] close tabs on their marketing efforts."

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the October 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get in the Ring.

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