Let’s face it – there is only one leader in every business category: Apple in smartphones, Wal-Mart in retail, Cargill in food processing, Microsoft in computer software and Wells Fargo in banking. This is equally true in smaller market segments. More often than not, you are not going to be the biggest company in your space and will have to adjust your strategy accordingly.
I’ve spent a lot of my career as a so-called market “underdog.” I actually enjoy being in this position. Certainly there are some disadvantages. For example, the big dog company has more marketplace awareness. As the old saying goes, “Nobody has ever been fired for buying IBM.” While they have a much larger promotional budget, the big dog also has a few disadvantages, including:
•While you have the freedom to brand anyway you like – within the true capabilities of your products or services – the big company brand is so well-established that it is difficult to change.
•Big companies are often driven by factors that are counter-productive to results (e.g. politics or personnel decisions). While they focus on “This is the way we’ve always done it,” you can focus on “This is the way to get results.”
•Large companies (especially public ones) have an almost pathological fear of taking risks. They have legal and PR departments to appease and are often more concerned about protecting the downside instead of pushing to create a better upside.
•Despite their large budgets, the people inside the massive companies may not be the brightest and the best marketers. You can usually beat them by utilizing the newest and most effective strategies.
•Unlike your ability to plan and execute quickly, big companies tend to be slow. By the time they figure out what’s going on in the market, your initiative is on the ground and working. And if it’s not working, you can tweak and adjust it while the other guys are still in endless internal meetings debating their Version 1.0.
As these points make clear, big isn’t necessarily better. As the underdog, you just have to play a smarter and more focused game. So what are some of the techniques you can use to beat your big competitors? Here are a few ideas to consider:
1.Be a niche marketer. Go where they aren’t! Every big company has weaknesses or areas of poor coverage. Instead of attacking on a broad front, figure out where the gaps are and focus on these areas. Your mission is to differentiate yourself in ways that translate into perceived market needs, and then present an offer to take advantage of these unique market segments.
2.Take on the big player directly. Smart politicians learn that when they are facing an entrenched incumbent, they need to go on the offense. The same is true in B2B marketing. Consider directly confronting your competitor and embracing your underdog status. People like to root for the underdog (David), and if you have a good story, the media can help you spread your message about how you are overcoming the giant company (Goliath). If the big player wants to take you on directly, so much the better because they will expose you to a larger portion of the marketplace.
3.Utilize content marketing, pull marketing and social media. Clever content marketing and low-cost pull marketing tools like social media and PR can differentiate you and boost market awareness. This is an area where your flexibility and agility can really pay off.
4.Stress the soft, qualitative attributes like responsiveness, customer service, etc. Even if you don’t stack up well in the feature and functionality category, you can beat the big player in ways that make customers feel good about doing business with you. One of my mantras is that people like to do business with people they like and trust. This is true in both B2C and B2B.
5.Be relentless and disciplined about achieving metrics. One way we have been successful in helping smaller companies overcome industry behemoths is by carefully designing and executing an end-to-end marketing and sales process that achieves a high close rate and low cost per new customer.
6.Team with other big players. When competing against a big dog, it doesn’t hurt to have another big dog on your side. In other words, if Oracle is your big competitor, it doesn’t hurt to have SAP on your side (or vice versa).
Regardless of the market you operate in, I hope these ideas show you how to consistently beat your larger competitors in B2B marketing and sales.