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Don’t Copy Your Competitors

"Feedback is the breakfast of champions,'' says Paul Beste, Chief Operating Officer of Heartland Advisors.

Eat it for breakfast. Eat it all day long. And you may just eat your competitors for dinner.

For far too long, American corporations have been fixated on competitive analysis and competitive strategy, says Andy Jordan, the chief operating officer of Makibie, an interactive strategies and research firm. Size up what they’re doing. Make sure you’re covering all their moves.

But, what if you copy your competition – and they’re not talking to their customers?

You may be copying your way straight to oblivion.

The money spent on competitive analysis?

"I suggest we switch that to improved customer interaction,’’ Jordan said on the first day of NICSA’s 30th Annual Conference and Expo.

That may in fact mean reducing the number of features of a product you offer, if they say it’s too complicated. Simplifying what you do, so they understand it.

Bank of America’s Merrill Edge advisors, for instance, can now “co-browse” with their clients, on the Web. The customer maintains control of his or her computer and is the only person who can enter or submit information.

But like an e-commerce site, the Merrill Edge advisor can use the pointer to guide the customer to information or services that will be helpful. This particular helps interactions with older customers, says Wendy Delp, director of Merrill Edge.

Of course, this can sometimes only take you so far. Reducing and simplifying computing and communications gear and services is the trademark of the late Steve Jobs at Apple. He made them easier to use than any of his competitors.

He did not copy them (except Xerox). But he also quite famously did not listen to customers – because they could not be expected to know what they wanted. He instead channeled what they wanted before they knew what it was they wanted. Think iPad.

But the rest of us aren’t Steve Jobs. So:

Don’t copy competitors. But do listen to customers. Every chance you get.