Get Inside Your Competitor’s Head, and Win

 In Articles, Case Studies, How-to's


No matter what business you’re in, and whether the business outlook is bleak or robust, one thing is certain: the success or failure of your strategy hinges on what your competitors choose to do.

If you’re like most companies, you’re engaging in some form of competitive intelligence. However, the information you gather may provide little value when it comes to anticipating what competitors will do.

A few reasons why the information doesn’t translate to real insight may include:

  •  Your information exists in silos. Sales people have one view of competition, customer service has another, and top management has a third. There is no holistic view, and no one is putting the disparate pieces of information together to understand the big picture.
  • Your competitive intelligence is focused on informing salespeople of competitive offerings, rather than anticipating competitors’ strategic moves.
  • Your leaders mistakenly believe that the competition will think just as they themselves do. They haven’t taken the time to discover how their competitor’s different bundle of assets, market position and capabilities will affect the competitor’s strategic decisions. And, they haven’t taken the time to get inside their competitors’ heads. They haven’t considered what the competition’s leaders care most about, and how those decision maker’s objectives, predispositions, backgrounds, and incentives are likely to affect competitor behavior.
  • Your leaders believe that competitors will act in a way that is consistent with their stated strategic intentions, when in fact, the objectives of the competitor’s leaders are often quite different from stated corporate objectives. And, because the incentives guiding the competitor’s frontline, and the skills that front line possesses, may be misaligned with their corporate objectives,  actual competitor actions may be very different than what their leaders intended.
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Gathering your management team to spend a few hours playing a war game enables you to uncover blind spots regarding market realities and competitor capabilities. As a result, you can better anticipate likely competitor actions and better plan for potential shifts in your market environment.

Through war games, you can increase the speed and agility with which you accomplish your strategic goals, because leaders are aligned, and have considered likely competitive scenarios.

Your leadership team will be more prepared to act quickly when the market changes because they know where each other stand on the issues, and have mentally rehearsed potential responses to competitive scenarios.

War gaming can yield immense benefits. Through war games, you’ll be able to:

  • Arm your company’s leaders with better insight into the motivations, personalities, and tendencies of your competitors’ leaders. Though you may already be gathering competitive intelligence, a war game can make this intelligence more real, vital and memorable to your decision makers. With this insight, your team can make better decisions about where, when and how to compete.
  • Spread understanding of competitor capabilities and likely moves more widely within your organization, so that every function, level, and business unit can anticipate competitor actions. As a result, you’ll make better decisions about what to invest in, how to measure and incent your people, where to focus innovation, who to partner with, how to price, and more.
  • Align your investments, capabilities, and organization around compelling and sustainable differentiators. Choose different areas of strength, and different target markets, from what your competitors have chosen.
  • Uncover your own management team’s blind spots regarding market realities, competitor capabilities, and likely outcomes.
  • Send market signals to improve your competitive position, by inducing competitors not to invest in areas that you intend to pursue.
  • Anticipate and plan for potential shifts in the market environment, such as new competitors, new technologies, new customer behavior or new customer industry structure.

Here are some typical outcomes from war games exercises:

  •  One team studied their competitors’ recent strategic moves and listened to investor calls to better understand the way competitor leaders thought. They perused the LinkedIn profiles and bios of competitor leaders and watched videos of speeches those leaders had made at industry conferences. Then they asked, “What would I do next if I were them?” As a result, the team identified three customer segments that the competitor was highly unlikely to invest in. They ramped up efforts to penetrate these segments and assigned extra sales resources to develop tailored service offerings. Sales shot up and reached a new, sustained level.
  • Another team noticed that their competitor had recently wooed the chief technology officer away from a leading e-commerce company. When, a few months later, this competitor rolled out an aggressive e-commerce program, with large discounts for customers who shifted their business online, the team was prepared, responded quickly, and suffered minimal market share loss.
  • A third team discovered that their competitor offered no product tailored to the hospitality market. By investing rapidly to fill this gap and meet the needs of this underserved market, the company was able to achieve strong growth.

Playing war games can be fun, but more important, it is a way to uncover your blind spots, think like the competition, and anticipate what they might do. Game makers promote their offerings as “games of skill and chance” because people like both. They like to know their knowledge and smarts make a difference, but they know luck also plays a big role.

Please contact me at to discuss how we can help you increase both your skill and your luck on the competitive playing field.

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