Keep your enemies close: what you can learn from competitors

Gaining a greater insight into your competition and how they succeed is a key strategy to improving your own results, both in sport and business.

what you can learn from competitors

Analyzing your opponents to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and work out how best to counter their tactics, is the norm for the top sporting teams. None more so than in rugby, with its reliance on team shape and set piece plays.

When the British & Irish Lions set off on their 2017 Summer Tour of New Zealand, they were preparing for a formidable challenge: playing against the number one side in the world in their own backyard. How could they develop a winning strategy? 

Lions coach Warren Gatland has spoken of the importance of knowing the New Zealand All Blacks’ game in order to counter it successfully. He has pointed to their ability to rapidly turn defense into attack at any point, and how they use the strength of their bench to increase their intensity in the final quarter of a game. 

It is, of course, one thing knowing how best to nullify the opposition and another thing actually being able to achieve it.

The warm-up games in New Zealand give the Lions the opportunity to put into practice these tactics and work out who in the squad would best be able to carry them out. The added challenge, of course, is that the warm-up matches were against different teams – strategies that could work against the All Blacks might not work against the Blues or the Highlanders.

The concept of analyzing your competitors, understanding what they are doing and adapting your plan accordingly is just as relevant outside of the sporting world. In business, learning from the competition is a key strategy for any successful organization.

Learning what works – and what doesn’t

Your competitors can often be best placed to see whether a certain idea or strategy works in practice or not. They are often at different stages in their development than you are, and can therefore provide a glimpse of what following one path would lead to.

Mistakes are always easier to identify than successes when it comes to researching your rivals. Finding out what a competitor is doing wrong is just as important as identifying what they are doing right. There is no point in repeating mistakes others have already made if you can avoid doing so.

Equally, by recognizing what works for your competition, you can model effective strategies of your own. This is not about stealing ideas or copying them directly, but learning what your customers respond to best.

When the EY Advisory team was helping to develop the official British & Irish Lions App, it wanted to find out what applications and services worked best in engaging Lions fans and provide a more rewarding experience. The team surveyed over 30 sporting apps that are currently available in the market and found that one of the best ways to get longer, richer engagement from fans was through developing a fantasy game.

The resulting MyLions game enabled fans to pitch their knowledge and skills by picking squads and teams and comparing them against other fans, coaches and experts. It has been consistently used by two-thirds of app users and has provided vital data to understand the persona of Lions fans better.

Finding opportunities in turbulent times

In a volatile, uncertain economic landscape, learning from your competitors is also a good way to find new opportunities in the marketplace.  

If your peers are changing, it can provide useful insight into what is happening with both their customers and within the industry as a whole. It can show you different ways of doing things or present untapped markets for your business.

During periods of uncertainty, organizations must be adept at learning how to implement new ideas. Those that thrive are quick to read and act on signals of change.

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