Tag Archives: Competitor

How Do You Evaluate Marketing Partners? Six Observations

Situation: A company is interested in partnering with a larger company to market a suite of services. They have identified two good candidates. They haven’t worked with partners in the past and are curious about how other companies work with marketing partners. How do you evaluate marketing partners?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The danger of working with a single marketing partner is that all of your eggs are in one basket. Your success in this relationship will depend upon the success of the marketing partner. This, in turn, will depend on the amount of attention that they pay to marketing your services, and on how actively their sales department sells your services. The danger to you is loss of control over the marketing and sales process.
  • Another company had a similar situation several years ago. At that time, the advice of the CEOs was to not select an exclusive partner, but instead to work with two different marketing partners, even though they are competitors. The company followed this advice, and it has worked like a charm.
  • Start with a position that you want a non-exclusive relationship. If a potential partner insists on exclusivity then ask for fixed guarantees of business and fixed minimums.
  • Other companies around the table work in partnership with competing companies all of the time. All of the partners value the services that these companies provide, and the relationships are harmonious.
  • If a possible partner insists on an exclusive relationship, another alternative is to split territories and supplement your agreements with most favored nation clauses.
  • Going back to the original question, provided that the terms offered by the marketing partner/partners are favorable, you won’t really know how they will perform until you establish a relationship and monitor it over time. Exit clauses and conditions will be an important part of any marketing agreement.

How Important Is It to Protect Your IP? Five Points

Situation: A company sells specialized components to a large manufacturer. The manufacturer is building a new product and, for this product, is requiring that all suppliers be approved suppliers. The company sells other products to this manufacturer and is in process of becoming an approved supplier, but the manufacturer wants to start using the company’s components for their new product now. As a work-around, they have asked the company to teach someone else their IP until they are approved. Would you share your IP with another company? How important is it to protect your IP?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a creative request from a large company to a smaller supplier. Absent a legal requirement that suppliers must be approved – not the case here – they are simply trying a bureaucratic ploy to get you to release your IP. Your component is necessary to them and they can’t get an equivalent component from anyone else. If they want your component for their new product, and want to release the new product on their internal timeline, insist on a waiver for the new policy until you have become an approved supplier.
  • Stand on principal. This is your IP and it is proprietary. If another supplier, a potential competitor, has the IP to do what you do, you don’t need to train them. If they need your IP to make the components you need to protect it.
  • Ask the manufacturer to put you on the fast track to approval supplier status. This is faster than teaching someone else your process.
  • Escalate this within the customer company until you find an audience.
  • Bottom Line – don’t give away your secret sauce. This request is unreasonable. Unless, of course, the other company is willing to give you satisfactory compensation for your IP.

How Do You Respond to a Breach in Policy? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company recently terminated their lowest performing sales representative. Prior to surrendering the company computer, the employee sent a goodbye email blast to the company and customer email lists. This action was a breach of company confidentiality policy. How do you respond to a breach in company policy?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Have the human resources manager send out a company-wide message specifying how this misconduct violated company policy and the potential impact on the company. In the same message, re-emphasize company confidentiality policy and the importance of complying with policy. Follow-up with conversations between managers and employees about the importance of company confidentiality.
  • Consider having all employees sign a new company confidentiality agreement every 6 months. This should be accompanied by explanations of company policy and conversations to reinforce the importance of complying with policy.
  • As a follow-up to this situation, be proactive by informing affected clients that this individual has left the company and let clients know who their new sales representative is.
  • Be aware in your internal communications that this action may have been an honest mistake, not intended to harm the company. If this is the case and your internal response is too strong, this may have a negative impact on other employees.
  • If the individual goes to work for a competitor, send the new employer a copy of the termination agreement signed by the employee and put them on notice that you will prosecute any violations of prior confidentiality agreements.

How Do You Respond to a New Competitor? Six Options

Situation: A company performs service that is primarily locally-based.  A competitor is establishing a new site less than two miles from the company’s location, offers a broader array of services and is larger than the company. How can the company protect its business by responding to this new competition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Your most important asset is understanding what you are doing right, and what is most important to your customers.  Remember that business is more than just a product or service. It’s a relationship. Your customers depend upon your for more than just what you offer for sale. Reach out to your customers for these answers. Make sure that you respond to their needs. As a benefit you may also find new growth opportunities.
  • Ask current customers whether you need to expand your service offering, or whether your current offering and lead time is acceptable to them. Ask how their needs are changing and how you can better serve them.
  • Reestablish the connection to your customer and listen. Preempt new competition by contacting your customer base before the competitor gains a stronghold.
  • Study your options and avoid knee-jerk reactions.  You may be in better shape that you think.
  • Major retailers and service companies have moved into many locations. Local businesses who survive their presence do so because they are focused on their customers’ needs and are better at serving the customers that the big companies are.
  • Invest in key components of your business relationships:  services, payment terms, responsiveness, your facilities, and so forth.

How Do You Cope with a Changing Market? Five Options

Situation: A company’s major competitor is closing shop. When this happens the company will be the sole large local service provider. Municipal and many large projects require multiple bids. The CEO is concerned that out-of-area companies will underbid the company’s union scale operation. How do you maintain your position in a changing local market?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If your municipality has union scale wage rules, find a way to monitor wage compliance of out-of-area operations. These companies may say that they pay union scale, but the municipalities and others won’t have the staff to monitor them. This will be up to you.
  • Talk to local elected authorities and impress upon them the importance of supporting local businesses. Remind them of wage compliance problems that localities have seen in the past. Suggest that they look at local content requirements to help keep business and business revenue funding in the local economy.
  • Emphasize the maintenance aspect of your jobs. If a local company both builds and later maintains the project, they will know the subtleties of the design and will be able to provide better and more cost-effecting ongoing maintenance.
  • Educate clients with monitoring, measurement and compliance checklists that highlight the benefits of using local contractors and maintenance service.
  • If the other company approaches you about buying his business focus on the ROI produced by the other company’s costs and profits, but under your pay-scale. If this looks promising, have a conversation with the owner and see what he wants. Prompt the owner to talk and listen carefully to what he has to say. If you don’t want to buy the full business, there are other options:
    • Hire his key employees on a $/hour plus commission basis on retained sales.
    • Purchase his customer list, or giving him something for any maintenance contracts that come over to you within a set time period.

How Do You Respond to a New Big Competitor? Four Strategies

Situation: A company has just learned that a new, much larger competitor is moving into their market. They are concerned that this may severely impact their growth and even their existence. How do you respond to new competition in your market niche from a much larger new entrant, particularly if the new player comes in with a low pricing strategy to buy market share?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Take a lesson from those who survive a move by Walmart into their territory:
    • Boutiques and high service specialty stores survive Walmart – especially those that focus on personal service. Walmart does not provide the level of service that you find in one of these stores and doesn’t know their customers as individuals. Boutiques may lose some price conscious customers, but these are not the customers that provide good margin to them.
    • Use your personal knowledge of the marketplace and your long term relationships to your advantage – including your reputation with existing customers when going after new customers.
    • You may remain more profitable than the larger company, especially on a per transaction basis, based on your knowledge of the territory or business niche. Walmart can’t tell you the best product to perform a home repair.
  • Focus on your strengths in the market, and don’t assume that all large companies are Walmarts. Walmart has a unique set of talents and a tightly controlled process. This may not translate to other markets – especially services which are very personal.
  • Research the reputation and business practices of the new entrant in their other territories. What are they known for, and what are their weaknesses? You may be able to learn this by networking with their current competitors and customers.
  • If you are a multi-generation family business, consider promoting your “old world skill” and established reputation and expertise.

Can You Do Business With Competing Companies? Three Guidelines

Situation: A company has received RFPs from two companies who regularly do business with each other, but who are also competitors. The projects specified by the two RFPs might compete with each other. Under the terms of the two RFPs, the company can not disclose the existence of either RFP to the other company.  Can you do business with competing companies, and how do you protect the company if you do?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The principal concern for the Company will be assuring that there is no violation of the CDAs that you have with each company.
    • Assign the RFPs to two different groups within the Company, with strict instructions that they must maintain their respective client’s confidentiality both internally and externally.
    • Emphasize the importance of confidentiality in responding to the RFPs to the Project Manager responsible for responding to each RFP.
  • Respond to both RFPs, but do so such that if both projects are contracted you can disclose this to both companies.
  • Prepare a set of talking points – the same talking points – to both companies and disclose the situation to both immediately after the project has been contracted.
    • Let them know what happened, share the timeline, share your obligations under your CDAs with both companies, let them know what you did internally to preserve their confidentiality, and that as soon as you were able – i.e., as soon as both projects was contracted – you informed them of the situation.
  • Companies commonly get involved in similar situations. The beauty is that you get business under either scenario. The challenge is that you must take all steps necessary to assure that the interests of both potential customers are preserved.
  • If you can successfully demonstrate to both companies that you have acted in an honorable fashion, they are more likely to trust you to do the same in the future.

How Do You Recruit Hard-to-Find Talent? Five Solutions

Situation: A company needs a strong pool of engineers in their market niche to stay ahead of the competition. Their niche is specialized with little transferability from other engineering specialties. They struggle to find local talent and relocation expenses are high. How have you recruited hard-to-find talent?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If you want a mix of fresh and experienced talent and need to add 3 to 5 new engineers per year to keep up with growth and turnover, you will be hiring a new engineer every 2-3 months so you need a standardized, repeatable process that is ongoing. If you don’t have either in-house or reliable outsourced HR capabilities, you need to secure this as soon as possible.
  • Consider establishing a satellite office in a geographic area which has an available talent pool.
    • Look for areas with a top university engineering program in your field.
    • Look at your key competitors’ locations and see whether they are in areas with both the educational and industrial-technology base to be a candidate location.
  • As you develop a new geography, forge strong relationships with the university programs that can feed you the younger talent that you need. This is a win-win relationship, because universities are focused on their placement statistics and corporate support.
    • Get to know the professors in your specialty and explore establishing a center of study or excellence within the engineering programs.
    • One company works closely with Santa Clara University and developed a program that offers financial rewards for the best technical papers produced by students in their specialty. This has created a buzz around the company, helped to establish a study program in their specialty, and enables them to attract the best and brightest graduates.
  • As you establish a reputation for attracting the best younger talent, this can help you to attract seasoned talent that wants to work with the brightest young talent in the field.
  • Another option is to find 2-3 key experienced engineers who are willing to relocate for the opportunity to build a new team.

What Do You Do When A Strategic Partner Changes The Game? Two Options

Situation: A membership association’s revenue is largely tied to its annual conference. The primary sponsor of the conference has decided to host their own annual conference. This will disrupt the association’s access to both conference attendees and vendors. The sponsor has offered terms of collaboration; however, the conditions are unfavorable to the association. What are the best alternatives available to the association and how should they pursue them?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Are the association’s mission and vision are tied to or independent of the sponsor? If there is an ongoing reason for the association to continue without the sponsor then it is reasonable to pursue alternatives.
  • There are at least two options available to the association:
    • Accept the partner’s offer of collaboration, provided that this can be done under conditions that will allow the association to survive short-term. If the partner stumbles hosting its own conference this may allow the association to recover ownership of the annual conference. The danger is that this may lead to a slow death if the sponsor further cuts revenue to the association or a fast death if the sponsor decides to abandon the association.
    • Shift the focus of the conference and ancillary services under a new branding scheme. A survey of the membership indicates that the majority favor a mixed-platform solution, and may welcome a mixed-platform approach. You may need to rethink and rework your model but this may offer the best chance for ongoing survival.
  • What steps should be taken to pursue the second option?
    • Conduct a second survey of the membership to evaluate their preferences on platform focus, what they want to see in a multi-platform conference, and what platforms should be included.
    • Shift focus of the association to multi-platform as a response to members’ priorities and desires. Court the majority of the membership that favor a mixed-platform focus and de-emphasize those who favor the single platform solution.
    • Develop an alternate roster of sponsors including all competitive platforms. If this model succeeds, your current primary sponsor may find participation imperative.

Key Words: Association, Conference, Sponsor, Conflict, Conditions, Collaborate, Vision, Mission, Participation, Competitor, Single, Mixed, Platform, Survey, Focus