5 symptoms that software product managers are worrying more about competition and not customers

In the video presentation soon after Amazon’s acquisition of Zappos, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon said “Obsess more about your customers than your competition.”  I could not agree more with him.

Here are 5 symptoms that you, as a software product manager, are worrying more about your competition and not customers:

  1. You spend more time benchmarking your competition than talking to your prospects or customers.
  2. Your sales team says that they cannot sell your current product because it does not have the latest gizmo widget that your competitor just released. They say “We need just that.”
  3. In internal company meetings, your team members spend more than 25% of the meeting time reviewing what the competition has done and dismissing them as a joke.
  4. Your company bad mouths your competition to customers and prospects.
  5. Your sales team brings up your competitor’s in presentations with customers and how you are better than them.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to keep a very good tab on your competition. You need to have a detailed understanding of their product strategy, their products, their financials, their pricing strategy – do as much competitive intelligence gathering as you can and make sure it is kept upto date. Use their products as prototypes. Get one person dedicated to that effort if you have the resource.

But spend at least 5 times more time listening to your prospects and your customers. Even talk to your competitor’s customers – understand how the competitor’s products work, where they fall short and why. Why did they select their product? What drove their decision making? What other products did they consider during purchase? How happy are they, why and why not? Would they be willing to test drive your product and give you feedback of what they like and don’t? Keep all of this customer centric and not competitor centric. Forget about the “corporate” nature of your competitor, instead keep it human, keep the focus on their products/services and how well they solve your market’s problems.

Just because your competitor build something does not mean they are right. They could be dead wrong. We definitely do not want to jump off the cliff with them, would we? Empower your sales team with all the competitive intelligence they need, in case they get questions on why you are better. But don’t make it their focus. More time they spend talking about the competition, less time they spend talking about you. Your sales team must not bring up your competitors unless you are asked. The whole show is about you, not about the competition. By bringing up their names unprompted, you are essentially creating free awareness and legitimizing your competition. For all you know, your prospects may have never heard about them.

I have written in the past on how it is not possible to win a feature war. Your competition will invariably have features you don’t have and vice versa. Instead focus on how you can build value for the customer and make them more successful in what they do. If you do this well, your success will come. No matter what competition throws at you, remain human. Civility never loses!

Never bad mouth the competition, respect them and beat them.

Thoughts? What are your insights?

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