Everything you can do, I can do better… Do you obsess over your competition?

You’ve probably fallen into the same trap as everyone else when it comes to worrying about competitors. Have you looked at your competitors’ products to figure out if there’s something you want to copy? Have you checked out their reviews on Glassdoor to learn more about their company culture and the happiness of their employees? Do you have Google Alerts set up for mentions of their company or product name? Do you follow what they’re posting on social media? Well, while it’s good to know what your competition is up to, obsessing too much can be a colossal waste of time and can make you lose focus. Let’s take a few minutes to reflect on some of the things that you should and should not concern yourself with when it comes to your competition.


There are many sources of inspiration for your product roadmap. Chances are that your sales reps, your support team, your professional services department, your client advocate, and basically every customer- and prospect-facing individual will bring their feedback to the table on a daily basis. As I mentioned in a previous post, the trick is to know when to say no to a certain request. So should you worry about product features of your competitors? My answer is “mostly no”. Obviously, you want to know how other products solve their customers’ problems, but hopefully, you are confident that you will find better ways to help your customers achieve their goals. Yes, you might hear from a prospect “But XYZ has this particular feature. That’s really what I was looking for”, or maybe your sales rep is convinced that “if only we had this feature that competitor ABC had, we would have won the deal”. But that doesn’t mean that you have to drop what you’re doing, change your roadmap, and create a replica of said feature. First of all, you only want to implement features which provide substantial value. Never build something gimmicky just because it “demos well”. Equip your sales reps with in depth knowledge about your product philosophy and with the right questions to ask a prospect. Always approach feature requests with a focus on solving the prospect’s problems and helping them achieve their goals. In other words, focus on the what when talking to a prospect before figuring out the how.


Let’s face it – no matter what types of products or services you provide, there’s always someone who’ll do it cheaper. Trying to win a deal by starting a race to the bottom is not just bad business for you, but it ultimately harms your industry, and, as a result, the quality of the products available, and that is not in the best interest of your clients. Be sure you get compensated fairly and in a way that allows you to continue to innovate and to provide amazing customer service. Be sure that your prospects and customers understand the value they’re getting.

Intel strategies

Some companies are more aggressive than others when it comes to competitive intel. In fact, we’ve had competitors use fake names to sign up for our webinars (I’m looking at you, “Jim Legg”!), use their personal accounts to get demos of our product, and even recruit their own customers to ask for demos just for the intel. Is it annoying? Sure, since it’s a distraction. You definitely want to be aware of those instances, since you don’t want to give away too much information. More importantly, you don’t want to waste your sales reps’ time on prospects that really only do some work for your competitors. But ultimately, don’t let paranoia take up real estate in your head that you could use more wisely by focusing on your product.

What they say about you

Arguably the hardest thing to ignore, or at least to not get enraged over, is what your competitors say about your company and product when it’s not true. Obviously, your gut reaction is to call them out. In situations in which the prospect tells you about derogatory and false statements that your competitors made, be thankful that you’re given the chance to present the facts, but be sure to do so in a way that reflects your company values and that establishes trust. While it can certainly be helpful to find out what your competitors say about you, so that you can be adequately prepared, it’s best to primarily focus on your relationship with the prospect.

Logo count

What about your competitors’ customer lists? How much attention should you pay to those? It’s definitely helpful to know which customers who would be/would have been great fits for you ended up choosing one of your competitors. When you lose a deal, always do a post mortem in order to understand why this happened. In some instances, maybe it wasn’t a good fit from the beginning due to budget or unrealistic expectations. In this case, identify what could have been done to walk away earlier in the process. It’s a much tougher loss when an organization would have been a good or even ideal fit for you. Ask your team what they would have done differently in hindsight. Then, move on, but be sure that someone follows up with the prospect after a certain amount of time. When looking at your and your competition’s customers, don’t just count logos. Always think about fit.

Customer Service

From a price standpoint, there’s always someone who will be cheaper. There’s also always going to be a “bigger boat”. However, one of the things that is most within your control is the level of service that you provide to your customers and your prospects. As I mentioned previously, company culture is how people feel after interacting with anyone on your team. Note that you will be hard pressed to find a company who does not make the claim to deliver great service. Look at your competitors, but also look at other companies that are known for having amazing service, and do whatever you can to be better than any of them. If you don’t let anyone out-care you, you will prevail.

Knowing your competitive landscape is necessary, but don’t let it paralyze you. Learn and get inspired where possible, and focus on the things that you can control.

What about you? What do you concern or not concern yourself with when it comes to your competition?

Saying “no” for the greater good

Being responsible for the success of your company means that you strive to achieve maximum happiness levels for your customers, employees, and stakeholders. So of course, your first instinct tells you to say yes to each and every request. Saying no is so much harder, but there are many cases in which a “no” is indeed in the best interest of your company and, in the long run, for everyone involved, including your customer base. Let’s take a look at situations in which a “no” makes sense and really shouldn’t be this hard.

No to a feature

“If we only had this feature, we’d win every deal”. I’m sure you’ve heard similar statements from your sales reps. And yes, your reps are the ones who directly interact with your prospects, so it’s only natural for them to share a prospect’s comment during a demo with your product manager or leadership. Feedback from your reps is vitally important and you should always hear them out. But it’s equally crucial to teach your reps to ask questions with regard to the prospect’s objectives rather than about their preference of a specific feature. Sometimes, another vendor may have sold the prospect on a certain feature but there may be better ways to accomplish the prospect’s goals. Or maybe the flashy feature that your competitor made sound so appealing just doesn’t fit into your vision of your product and the future of the industry or isn’t even in the best interest of your customers. Understanding your prospects’ goals and identifying the ideal way to help them achieve those goals should be at the core of your road map. And that may very well mean saying no to a feature request. Take all feedback seriously but to stay true to your vision and always have the best interests of your customers at heart. Don’t dilute your product with features that might result in a quick win (as in increased sales) in the short term but that make your software hard to maintain, don’t drive the desired results for your customers, or prevent you from working on better, more impactful features.

No to customizations

Similarly, your prospects may approach you with customization requests. Typically, the younger your company and the more prestigious the potential customer is, the more inclined you are to say yes. Be cautious. Once again, consider the long term impact. How hard will it be to maintain the customization? Is a SaaS based model what you ultimately strive for? If so, how will you handle clients who have their own customized product? Does it even make sense for the client? Customization requests can spawn a lot of great ideas for your road map, so be sure to listen and ask questions. But don’t be afraid to say no to something that will hamstring your engineering and support team.

No to projects

At Hannon Hill, we’re lucky enough to have a thick pipeline of project requests from our customers, ranging from small implementations to content migrations and even large scale integrations. Occasionally, the scope of a request falls outside of what we typically provide. Clearly, we would never take on a project if we thought it to be a bad fit for our areas of expertise. We want to focus on what we do best. We will consider saying yes if a) we fully understand the scope and the risks, b) it’s something that will make future projects and helping other customers easier, and c) it helps our team members grow professionally. However, if the answer to those questions is no or if we believe that our partners are better suited and can deliver better results, it’s a no. After all, would you want your plumber to install your hardwood floors?

No to terms and conditions

Ah, contract negotiations. They sure can be tricky. As a software company, you protect yourself by having a license or subscription agreement in place which clearly states your and your users’ responsibilities. It defines warranties, liabilities and indemnification and outlines processes for remediation in case of a dispute. Sometimes, your potential customers want to negotiate the terms of your agreement or even provide their own contract. What do you do? You can either stand firm or negotiate. In certain circumstances, it may be okay to make a concession, while in other cases, you need to assess whether the level of risk of agreeing to a change is worth it. As you know, even the most rigorous QA process can only reveal the presence of bugs, but not their absence. If the potential customer’s terms specify warranties and liabilities that open your company up to a potential financial loss that is disproportionate to the value of the deal, saying “yes” would not make sense, but narrowing down the definitions of the terms would. At the end of the day, a customer who is a good fit will shy away from working with a vendor who will agree to just about anything to get the deal, even if that means jeopardizing the longevity of the business.

No to a prospect

Arguably the hardest “no” happens when you have to walk away from a potential customer. But sometimes, a prospect is simply not the right fit for your product, your service, or your company. This can have a variety of reasons. The prospect may not have the proper staff to be successful with your product. They may have unrealistic goals or expectations. They may actually need a completely different type of product. They may not even really understand their own needs or need something that is not your area of expertise. Regardless, reject the idea that any new customer is good for business. Wouldn’t you rather provide good guidance to your prospects by saying “no” than to lose them once they see for themselves that it wasn’t a good fit to begin with? The wrong fit is bad for all parties involved. It can have a negative impact on team morale and on your reputation (and thus, future business).

At the end of the day, you want to deliver the right product to the right customers under the right conditions in order to ensure long term success and happiness. And that’s why a quick yes isn’t always the right answer. Say no when it’s for the greater good.

What about you? When do you find it unnecessarily hard to say no?