Your competitors aren’t waiting for you to screw up. They’re ready (and likely trying) to steal your customers right now.
Competition can be ugly, especially if you’re on the losing end. But it’s part of sales. The best way to win is to stay ahead of the competition’s attempts to poach your customers.
Knowing how they’ll try to steal your customers is your best defense.
Here’s what they’re doing when you aren’t looking:
Competitors are trying to understand what makes your customers tick – and what makes their relationship with you strong and weak. They focus on the weak part so they can break it.
They’ll use monitoring tools to watch your website, social activity and third-party review sites. They’ll use other online tools to help measure your customer sentiment and social media mentions.
They’ll call on your customers and survey them when they interact to get a deeper understanding of why they chose you and how you do business.
Once the competition knows who your customers are, they’ll try to get their attention.
They’ll be kind of sneaky, too. Competitors know they look like predators if they tell your customers they’re trying to steal them.
So they’ll reach out with highly targeted social media ads, going after followers and fans of your social media pages.
At a more grassroots level, they’re attending and presenting at the same events you do, connecting with your customers and comparing themselves.
Once your customers have shown your competition some interest, the wooing starts.
Your competition will get them into their funnel with an offer. Your customers might click through on the ad, engage with them on social media, opt-in for a webinar or sign up for an enewsletter or sample.
What’s important here is the content they give your customers: It will be something that appears to be (or maybe it is!) more valuable than what they get from you – more entertaining, better detail, deeper analysis, more reliable, etc. – so they create a positive association with their name.
They might look for complaints about you online and in social media or your FAQs to see what’s bothering your existing customers. Then they’ll tune their content to appear better than those issues.
Winning (well, at least trying)
Once they’ve hooked your customers, they’ll hit hard with personalized email since it’s the most effective online sales channel, an Econsultancy survey found.
If they make a sale, they’ll try to get their customers (now your former customers) involved in a loyalty program. After that, you’ll have an even more difficult time winning them back.
The competitions’ tactics to steal your customers
How will the competition try to steal your customers? They work on it through social media tactics, industry events, gatekeepers, and even your clients when you least likely expect it.
“Your competitors will be bringing fresh thinking and new perspectives to them – so it’s essential that you do the same,” says Bob Apollo, Founder, Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners. “If all you do it to perpetuate the status quo, sooner or later something will disrupt it. It’s always better to create the disruption than to be a victim of it.”
Here are 11 of the tactics, plus tips on how to stay ahead, stop or avert them.
The online moves
You probably found most of the leads who became customers online. Your competition will try its hardest to steal your customers online, too.
1) They go for your low-hanging fruit
If you have customers complaining in social media, on review sites or right on your website, you can bet your competitors know it. And they’re quick to reach for that low-hanging, dissatisfied fruit.
Key for you: Fix issues quickly. If you’re attentive to customers’ needs and issues, and fix the problem and the emotions, they won’t complain where the competition can find them.
2) They like your “likes”
Facebook doesn’t allow your competitors to target your customers directly. But they have a nifty workaround: Competitors use interest-based targeting to show their ads to the people who “like” you – that’d be your customers and prospects. In Facebook Advertising Targeting options, competitors can type in your name or domain.
They might match their interests, audience size and followers to yours and decide if it’s a good fit. It’s not exactly a shot in the dark, but it can be a bit tricky for competitors to poach you because you might build and engage your audience differently than they think so they get a false read on who you have (and put target ads in the wrong place).
Key for you: Vary content, types of engagement and promotions so they can’t get a full-read on your core audience.
3) They eat your keywords
Competitors are ready to poach your hot prospects by tapping searches specific to you. They run ads for your brand keywords – a specific product, your company name or need your product fulfills. Then when potential customers Google your company or product, competitors’ ad prominently pops up. It’s expensive and competitors have to follow Google Adwords guidelines for using brand names and keywords, but competitors work around them.
Key for you: Run ads for your brand and keywords and you will at least stay in stride with them – which is actually ahead of them, considering prospects are searching your keywords to start.
4) They creep on your email
Email is a solid conversion channel for B2B and B2C organizations. That’s why your competitors send “messages” to your customers without even having their email ID. They use Native Gmail Ads to creep on your customers. They target the ads (that are expandable and shown in the Gmail Tab or social inbox) based on keywords, topics and demographics of customers like yours. And they can target inboxes of people who receive from a particular domain (like yours).
Key for you: Add more value to every message you send. Your subject line and content needs to be more enticing than anything the competition drops in your customers’ inboxes.
5) They tweet louder than you
Competitors blow their own trumpet (and ruffle your feathers) with Promoted tweets, Promoted accounts and Promoted trends on Twitter. They target people with their promoted content based on bios, accounts they follow (such as yours) and keywords. They might get your followers using free or low-cost tools, then load those into the targeting section of Twitter and create the ad.
Key for you: Content is king. Your social media feeds need to be fresh, imaginative and targeted to your customers so they don’t even notice the promoted content.
6) They Reddit it time and again
Competitors can (and do) use Reddit to figure out what interests and engages your customers online. Then they try to do it better. In Reddit Search, they might enter products, services, niches or industry catchphrases to find the content, headlines and keywords that already work – and poach what you’re doing. They might even look at comments to find what’s missing, and then fill that need.
Key for you: Do it, too. It helps to see how you compare. Are you getting the content and headlines right? If not you, who is?
The offline moves
Not all poaching happens online these days. Competitors will still show up on your customers’ doorsteps (figuratively and literally) scratching for your business. Here’s how:
7) They watch for your changes
Congratulations on those promotions, business developments, industry accolades! You did (and should) make the good news known. And now it’s ammunition for your competitions’ poaching attempts. You see, while you’re gloating, they’ll ask your customers if the changes have affected their service. And just saying it may make customers think, “Well, now that you mention it …”
Key for you: Announce your good news from the mountaintop … and add that it will not affect the spectacular service customers get. Even better, explain how it will improve their experience.
8) They listen to the rumor mill
For all the great things that happen at your organization, and you share, some negative, gossip-provoking things happen, too. Your competitors keep their ears to the ground to pounce on your bad news (layoffs, mistakes, untimely resignations, etc.)
Key for you: Be proactive. Acknowledge negative news, how it will affect customers and what you’ll do to keep things the same or possibly make them better.
9) They prey on your vulnerability
Competitors move in when you’re busy, tired, overwhelmed, under-enthused. In other words, they visit, call and propose when you don’t keep up with your customers.
Key for you: Nurturing customer relationships – and keeping competitors at bay – isn’t a one-person job. If salespeople, service pros, customer success managers and even C-level professionals schedule consistent, regular time to check in on or respond to customers, they won’t easily be wooed by competitors.
10) They undercut you
Competitors always have and always will try to win your customers with lower prices. Every year. Every quarter. Every day.
Key for you: Emphasize value when customers tell you they have lower-price competitors banging on their door. Try pricing strategies from here, too.
11) They negate your referrals
You probably ask customers for referrals – if they know someone who might benefit from your solution – or if they’d introduce you to someone they know who you recognize as a good lead. Common sales practice … that your competitors will throw in your face when given the opportunity. They might ask your customers: Is your supplier more interested in who you know or in knowing you? That alone can make your customers think twice.
Key for you: Be mindful of the frequency and vigor with which you ask for referrals. Too much is too much.