What Sam Walton Can Teach Us About Researching Your Competition

by Sean Boyce
walmart carts competiton

You’ve been building your product business for months (or years) and you can’t help but ask yourself the following questions over and over again.

  • What else could we be doing to be more successful?
  • How does everyone else solve this problem?
  • I feel like I’m missing something obvious, what is it?

These feelings are common for those involved with building product businesses.  When I’m focusing on strategy for my product company, I can’t help but feel that I’m reinventing the wheel at times.  

Your focus will shift in these ways from time to time.  If this is a problem for you, then you are lacking visibility into your competitive market.  

Evaluating the competition isn’t something you do every now and then.  It’s critical to make it part of your normal routine. If you don’t, this uncertainty and doubt will regularly remind you.  Just remember what it means and realize it’s not just you.

The good news is it is easier that it seems to reach a level of comfort about your competitive landscape.  I can’t help but think of the great examples of competitor research that I read about in Sam Walton’s book Made in America.  Made great by how direct he was in his approach and how easy the examples are to understand.  

Sam would drive his family nuts on the road trips they would take.  He’d make them stop at every retail store along the way. At each stop, he would walk all over the store to find out how they did everything.  If he saw something new, he’d ask about it. Everything from how they managed inventory to how customers were able to checkout was discussed. He would use these lessons learned to come up with new innovative ideas for how Walmart could do better. 

So what can we learn from the founder of Walmart about evaluating the competitive landscape for our product business?

Talk to people

There’s no shortcut here.  Get out and talk to people.  Remember, we’re looking for patterns of problems that we can solve to strengthen our product’s value proposition.  That requires data and a lot of it. Get out there and get more.  

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Don’t be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions

Sam would ask anything.  Nothing was off the table.  You should too. What’s the worst that can happen, they say no?  If that’s the case, this process can only stand to benefit you. Instead, think of all the helpful information you could learn.  

Your competition is trying to solve the same problems that you are.  The more you can learn about what they’ve tried the better. Focus on learning more about what does (or does not) work.  Those lessons can save you valuable time and money. It can be just as important to know what not to do.  

Be open to collaborating with your competition

In most markets, there is a sea of opportunity in front of everyone.  You likely need a lake or even a pond to be successful beyond your wildest dreams.  Competitive service businesses partner all the time. When two similar businesses get booked out they share leads with each other.  There’s no reason product companies can’t help each other out as well.  

It’s important to be differentiated among your competition.  If you truly are, then you can always help each other because any potential customer will always be a better fit for them or you. 

Want to know more about how to better understand your product’s competitive landscape?  Let’s talk it through, email me at sean@nxtstep.io or visit us on the web at NxtStep.

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