Posts Tagged ‘competitors’

Before you fight them… Choose them wisely!

by Himanshu Jhamb on March 8, 2010

We’ve all heard this many times in our workplaces – “The customer is always right” and “All customers are equally important”. Well… I am going to challenge these in this post and will focus more on the latter one. This topic came up in one of my recent conversations with a publishing industry thought leader, Gordon Tibbitts, President, Atypon Systems where both of us were talking about the capacity of individuals and the choices we, as individuals, have to make in order to utilize our limited capacities effectively. At a point in the conversation Gordon said “You know what Himanshu, before you fight them… you have to choose your battles wisely”. One might ask how do you qualify what’s wise Vs. what’s not and the quick answer is – One that you think will produce the results you are after is the wise one to take.

Not all customers are made equal. Some customers are very rewarding, whereas some are pretty much a drain on your resources. For instance, I had a customer once who did not understand the value of Quality Assurance; as a result of that they did not have a clear QA management, a QA team or even any QA processes. The impact of that alone was that the project had many delays and not only impacted the customer in a negative way but even the vendors (us being one of them) felt the reverberations of the impact to a point where it affected (negatively) our bottom-line. If someone were to ask me about if the customer was a beneficial one for us as a vendor, the answer would, most unequivocally, be a resounding NO. These are the kind of customers that you don’t want!

Another very insightful point that Gordon made during our conversation was that it is a good thing not to ruffle any feathers if you see your competitor serving a high cost client. What made this insightful for me was the observation that Mr. competitor would face a lack of capacity if they are busy servicing high cost clients, and you don’t want to burn the midnight oil to get these clients from your competitors as this would almost be counter-intuitive to your productivity (and you’d be helping Mr. Competitor, too).

This also reminds me of a quote by Napolean Bonaparte:

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake”

I’d like to acknowledge Mr. Tibbits for the pearls of wisdom he shared with me and I am more likely (than before) to think twice (or maybe even thrice) before I choose where I invest my resources… and I suggest you do, too!

Lessons From Our Past

by Guy Ralfe on February 3, 2010

I have been riding the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Commuter rail service for 5 years and the service has not changed much in this time, but year on year the cost of a ticket rises, often more than inflation. In addition the daily parking rates received a 100% increase a year ago supposedly to help cover MBTA staff costs and yet the only way you can pay at most stations is by stuffing one dollar bills through a slot – no monthly contracts, pay by credit card etc that are commonly available in many municipal parking lots across the country.

I am moaning but I am trying to make a point here too – on February 1, 2010 a new rule has been put in place where commuters must only board where there is a conductor present. In effect about a 30% reduction in the number of places to board a train that already only has an entrance at each end of the carriage. I doubt in the history of rail service, its  origins date back to 1889, has this situation ever been the case and it is sad that our modern day educated commuter cannot let themselves on or off a train unescorted.

Most commuter systems around the world are being redesigned to eliminate the human element and to abstract the ticket management to before the actual commute, which is the prime purpose of the conductors on the MBTA. Even the T, the metro system in Boston, running alongside this same service operates with just a driver.

What I observe happening is that people with power today are making decisions because they operate in the vacuum of state/municipal organization, thinking they are immune to the consequences of the value their organization produces. At the end of the day the leaders of the MBTA are exposed to the same market pressures as any other free market business.  When the marginal utility or value does not exist passengers will consider alternative means of transport – it has happened before. When the cost of operation exceeds the value paid by customers and from the state taxes, it will draw significant attention by both disgruntled commuters and non-commuters who will see it as a waste of their tax dollars. It will not be perceived as a necessity but a problem.

Where there are problems there are opportunities… successful businesses thrive on the vulnerability of these sorts of problems. When opportunistic businesses, observe organizations entwined by their own history, they quickly swoop in with fresh ideas not constrained by the existing historical standards and cultures. Today’s impossibilities will become tomorrow’s opportunities. These options will sound welcoming and fresh to a disgruntled commuter and tax base. Although things generally move slowly in state/municipal processes once a movement starts it is hard to stop the momentum of the masses.

When this shift takes place it will become quickly apparent that even the state/municipal organizations are competing in a global marketplace irrespective of if the infrastructure is immovable such as in a train infrastructure. People and organizational practices can always be changed – it depends who holds the most compelling and valuable story at the time, which is what business is essentially. There are many transport service companies all over the globe that given the opportunity, and having no sentiment for existing established policies or traditions, will gladly start anew – possibly without a conductor or possibly one to keep all the doors open for their valued customers.

No customers  = no service, the value has to be there, and if you are not producing value with existing assets and opportunities there are a lot of companies out there determined to make better use of established assets like a rail network. Of late has been the acquisition by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment company of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the nation’s second-largest railroad for $34 Billion, their biggest acquisition yet.

Surprisingly this lesson has not been learned by the MBTA where this situation has already transpired in Boston’s Transportation History to quote

“The West End Street Railway had a virtual monopoly on all streetcar lines in greater Boston, but high profits, poor service, high fares and a general lack of concern for the public had resulted in alienation of the West End’s management from its customers. On December 9, 1897, under the supervision of the Transit Commission, a lease was entered into with the West End Street Railway by which the property of that company was leased to the Boston Elevated Railway Company”

Remember I told you so!

Interviews for Business Knowledge

by Guy Ralfe on November 25, 2009

Spill the beansRecently I was asked to step in and conduct an interview for a consulting position. My initial reaction was “not another one!”  For me interviewing seems to have such a high cost to it and also a relatively high failure rate just because people can raise their game momentarily (up to 2 hrs for an interview) but maintaining that performance over a number of months on the job is where proof of the interview and selection becomes apparent.

At the start of the interview I found my mood in the wrong place, the flow of the interview felt strained and awkward for me and I suspect as much for the candidate. I thought to myself ‘how would I like it if I was the candidate?’ If it was me taking the time out of my day to be at the interview, I would want it to be as beneficial to me as possible. I would want a fair chance to present my experiences and competencies to demonstrate the potential value for the hiring organization and I need to make an assessment if this position and company is where I want to take my career.

So then what is the purpose of the interview for the hiring organization? I needed to present the company as a possibility to the candidate, give guidance about the position in order that we can make an informed decision on whether to proceed with the candidate. I was surprised how similar both sides of the process were and really that this was just as important for our organization as it was for the candidate, we don’t want a good candidate turning us down! My mood was quickly adjusted and the interview picked up and became a far more engaging and effective interaction.

Now as the interaction developed I suddenly became aware of another possibility I had been overlooking during my previous interviews – interviews are a learning opportunity!

Most candidates that apply for a position generally get to the interview because they have some tangible experience in a domain that you are seeking to fill. Sometimes they might even come from a competitor, and because of the interview situation candidates are willing to talk more freely than they might otherwise about their experiences and previous organizations.

Now I found myself listening to the candidate, not only for his or her relevant experiences, but also the information that was being provided to describe and substantiate situations. I was suddenly aware of a whole load of information being provided in relation to how a competitor is running their operations.

Some examples of the kinds of information that can be shared are:

  • Sales cycle and licensing structures
  • Potential clients
  • Project structures and execution
  • Project and organizational staffing
  • Project methodologies
  • Charges and rates
  • Salaries and performance plan structures
  • Lessons learned in product delivery
  • Networking and references
  • Product strategy
  • etc

Often people join and attend forums to gather insight into these topics. By looking at an interview as an engagement opportunity, more than just screening candidates, you will be surprised at how much information and learning you can get – remember “knowledge is power in the knowledge age

Interviews are still costly, but if you look at them as a tool to hire candidates and a source of knowledge to evaluate and build your business with – the cost just got a whole lot less.

As a foot note for job seekers: remember you are always being interviewed, during every interaction people draw assessments of you. Many people tell stories about how they were lucky to be in the right place at the right time, the truth is that they produced the right assessment at the right time.

Where is the competition?

by Guy Ralfe on August 19, 2009


Being a Boston resident I was contemplating how Dunkin’ Donuts has dominated the regions coffee and donut market and who were their real competitors. I then happened to read an article on that gave a description of the various levels of competition an organization faces which was very clearly laid out in three tiers.

First Level – the specific brands which are direct competitors to your product or service, in your geographic locality

Second Level – competitors who offer similar products in a different business category or who are more geographically remot

Third Level – competitors who compete for the “same-occasion” dollars

Relating back to our local Dunkin’ Donuts shop their first level competitors are going to be any local, regional or national brand coffee & donut shops operating in the geographic area such as Honey Dew Donuts, Krispy Kreme. In so far as second level competition goes this would be other food outlets offering coffee and quick food. McDonald’s comes to mind as they added the McCafé premium coffees to their restaurants over the last two years to compete in this space. At the third level, competition is in the form of gas stations and 7-Eleven convenience stores offering a quick cup of unpretentious freshly brewed coffee on tap at self serve counters.

Looking at these three levels you will notice that at Level One you are competing on a product, service and location basis as the customer is having to make a choice about a specialty offering. At level two you are now competing on a product, timing and convenience basis. This is when Mum has to get the kids some lunch but is dying for her caffeine fix, McDonald’s with their PlayPlace and fast food provides a compelling option. The level three competition shows up when the customer was not consciously seeking a coffee but since they are available they will take one. Level Three transactions are the ones you generally can’t count on getting but they make a big difference to the bottom line for whoever is winning them.

At the end of the day we compete on value, but what is often forgotten, is that the customer determines what is valuable. Don’t forget Value is not just currency but includes all the associated costs of making a transaction such as time, convenience, situation etc.

This is relatively easy to see from a product or service point of view but how is it for you the individual? We are all competing in a global marketplace at multiple levels if we like it or not; in our jobs, our relationships, our careers and our social networks – everything that we do. Technology has continually upped the ante and today we live in a marketplace where we are not much different from the marketer for Dunkin’ Donuts, just this time the product is ourselves.

    • We compete with our colleagues in the tasks we perform to get the recognition and to get the salary increase or promotion.
    • We compete as a contributing part of our company to win business, produce a higher valued products and services in the marketplace to increase market share and profitability.
    • We compete with every individual out there that wants what you have – and never underestimate for a second how many that is.

You may not be able to see your competition, but be sure your competition is always looking out for you!