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CRYING OVER SPILLED MILK: when to ignore clients and competition

spilled milk

We had spent about 3 full-day sessions trying to map out the competition. In light of a recent loss of one of our most prominent (and profitable) clients, the executive team had decided that it was imperative that we learn as much as we possibly could about the competitor to whom we had just lost our favorite child, so-to-speak. What made the competition’s technology so much better? Why does their customer service render a better reputation than our own? How are they covering costs with such a low price tag? What, really, is making them gain so much market share at our expense?

We followed through the motions of a typical business analysis: competitor SWOT analysis, secondary research, in-depth surveys and interviews with existing clients/employees who had once donned the opposing team’s colors, etc. We had worked tirelessly, logging countless hours and accumulating a payroll tab suggesting that only the most awe-inspiring solution had been devised. Somewhere, amidst the calming tranquil of monotone mansplaining and the aroma of the coma-inducing whiteboard markers, my inner voice escaped, accidentally (maybe): “Who cares?” I said.

Granted, by this time I really was wondering who, actually, cared—we had flogged the dead horse enough and I was hungry for a Z-Teca burrito. The truth of the matter, however, was this accidental lapse in discretion was exactly what I (and others) had been thinking over the previous 3 days: why are we spending all this time, money and effort on something we cannot control (competition) when we should be using these resources (and brain cells) on the improvement of our own company. We had let the competition define ‘better’ instead of focusing on how we could set the market standard for what ‘better’ really is.


WAIT. Did he say “clients SECOND?!” Indeed, I did. Sometimes, losing a client/patient/consumer can sting. But this doesn’t mean that you have to go back to the drawing board every time a follower stops following.

If you try to accommodate the masses, you will dilute value for the profitable, loyal, sticky business relationships.

We have moved so far past the notion of companies owning control that we are now bowing down to the end consumer. This is not smart business. Always remember: if clients truly had complete control, everything would be free. Until that happens, focus on your company first—a better version of your company is better for your clients anyway (for those of you who still think ‘client first’ is the best policy).

2. THEN, FOCUS ON COMPETITION (if you have time)

Stop focusing on the one that got away and the competitor that took them. Instead, be sure to continually focus on the ones you have and the ones you will get. Many companies have a confidence conundrum: when clients/patients leave, they immediately consider ways in which they can change—often resorting to the deep analysis of the competition in hopes of revealing secrets which will lead to winning every client, all the time. It will never happen. Sometimes, it’s not you, it’s them.

Attempting to anticipate a competitor’s strategy by researching their previous moves/wins/losses is about as useful as using historical market data to predict which stocks will make you rich.

History doesn’t predict the future. Losing a particular client or even a series of clients, doesn’t always warrant wholesale change; sometimes you just need to stay the course. Go back to your business plan, review your strategic priorities and decide whether or not losing these clients is cause for concern or just simple attrition based on your desired direction, brand image and financial aspirations. Whatever you do, don’t build your business model on the foundation of your competitors’ blueprints.

3. TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE (your time)

Corporations do an awful job of quantifying and attributing the value of time. Salary is the greatest barrier of innovation & execution, which is why the majority of successful companies have adopted an entrepreneurial mindset and ethos—their very livelihood depends, exclusively, on their ability to work productively and ingeniously. Do you think Apple spends more time analyzing the competition than it does on research and development? Do you think Amazon spends more time on clients lost than it does on strategizing ways to improve the experience of its existing, profitable clients? Unlikely. Which activities are truly going to advance your company to the next growth frontier? What value do you place on your time? Where do you track the answers to these questions (hint: in your head = poor response)? Lost clients and competition are a drain on time which could otherwise be devoted to growth, new ideas and progress—it’s no use crying over spilled milk.


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