Innovation Product management

Care about your competition?


I’m currently reading REWORK, an already kind of classic business book. One of the ideas in the book that really resonate with me is about competition.

Authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson argue that in product development, you should pretty much ignore competition. Looking at others, trying to follow or even copy their product/solution, is not the way to success.

“When you get sucked into an arms race, you wind up in a never-ending battle that costs you massive amounts of money, time, and drive. And it forces you to constantly be on the defensive, too. Defensive companies can’t think ahead; they can only think behind. They don’t lead; they follow.”

I strongly agree with their view. When designing, launching or selling your product you cannot do it with a “me too” product or story. A common approach to avoid a “me too” is to carefully study competition, tick as many of their feature boxes as possible, while having one or two USPs sprinkled on top for differentiation. The problem with this approach is that you spend 90% of your time replicating what someone else is doing, and 10% trying to differentiate your self.

How about when customers demand features X,Y,Z from your competitors?

In business-to-business context, you need to relate to your competitors on some level. Your customers will demand that you provide a similar set of basic functions. They may even require you to interop with your competitors in a larger solution. And anything your competitors have in their feature list, that you don’t, will be used against you.

Having said that, this comparison is often just part of a negotiation game. To push down price, to push you to develop certain things or simply to be percecived as being in control.

In reality once you provide the features needed to solve your customers problem, the feature set is often not top of the decision factors list. Trust, human relationships, knowledge and the overall sales process are often more important. McKinsey has for example shown that aggressive sales styles and too much contact are among the most destructive things you can do in business-to-business sales (The Basics of Business to Business sales success).

So what to do instead?

So, what should you do if replicating your competitors doesn’t work? Start from your users! Understand them, their situation and their pain points. Today and in the future.

This requires that you talk to them, but it also requires that you understand where they are headed. And to do so talking to them won’t be enough. You need to fully understand their market and their reality, and where the bigger market trends and movements are. In some cases you even need to help them drive their market, and their customers, in the right direction.

Sounds easy? It actually is! At least to some extent. Spend 98% of your time focusing on your users and 2% on competition instead of vice versa. Doing so and you’re practically done.
Spend 98% of your time focusing on your users! #forgetcompetition #prodmgmt Click To Tweet

TL;DR – be a leader!

Copying what others do is seldom a recipe for success. Even though you need to relate to your competitors, do not build your product or sales pitch based on what others are doing.

Instead understand your users, understand their needs, their pain points and their reality. Then give them what they need. Not what others give them.

Be a leader, not a follower!


By Alexander Sandstrom

Passionate product manager with a love for technology and innovation. More about me.

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