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‘Kill the Competition’ Is Not a Rallying Cry

“We’re going to obliterate them. We’re going to steal every ounce of their margin. We’re going to make those guys worry about their mortgages.”

At the start of 2021, leaders knew they had to rally their teams. With that came the resurgence of a not-so-effective rallying cry: Kill the competition.

It might work in the short term, but in the long term, a ‘kill the competition’ narrative can be detrimental to performance. Focusing on killing the competition (instead of winning customers) typically leads to two major problems.

1.    Commoditized Relationships

Imagine someone is pitching you a product. They focus on why their product is better than the other guy. They poke holes in the competitor’s features. They go through the products side by side for you. For them, the win is to beat the competition.

Now, a second salesperson comes in. They ask you about your business, your objectives, your pain points, and how they can add value to you. They link the solution to the problems you’re facing, and the metrics you’re evaluated on. Their win is to help you.

Who are you more emotionally connected with? Of course, the first. They were focused on you, the customer, not some abstract other entity.

This same narrative plays out in operations, in marketing, in innovation, and virtually every facet of the business. Organizations obsessed with beating the competition focus inward, on themselves winning, and because of that, they tend to create commoditized relationships with their customers and with their employees.

Contrast that to organizations focused outwards, on making a difference to customers. When we are focused on making a difference, we build stronger relationships and connect more emotionally with our work. A team with the shared goal of making a difference for someone is more knit together than a team with the shared goal of fending off some anonymous logo. We come together because we know something bigger than a market share report is counting on it.

2.    Short Term Thinking

When you’re only focused on killing the competition, behavior, and thinking becomes very reactionary. You’re not strategic. You fail to see the big picture.

Take Blockbuster for example. They were so focused on beating Hollywood Video that it led them to offer overpriced candy at their checkout line and discounted weekend rentals. But Netflix was focused on delivering at-home entertainment for consumers, and that led them to redefine the entire industry.

Hubspot cites another example: While Coke and Pepsi were battling it out, they failed to cash in on the arrival of energy drinks — Red Bull is now the most popular soft drink in the world. When two companies get tangled up in rivalries, they often miss out on more important things.

Your organization, your team, and you have to stand for something. It can’t just be against something else.