We, sometimes, assess ourselves against the wrong competitors. We think our competitors are those organizations providing similar products and services. We analyze their products/offerings, we look at their market strategies, how they position themselves with customers, how they create value.

In developing our competitive strategies, we take these analyses, figuring out how we can be perceived as better than them. Perhaps some new features and functions are added to our products. We copy some of the good elements of their strategies, or we try to one up them, being a little better than them in certain aspects, trying to differentiate our offerings. We may differentiate our offerings on customer experience, our ability to help them navigate their buying journey, how we help them overcome indecision.

These are important, but matching or slightly one upping our competition may not be sufficient. The customer may be evaluating us based on criteria that are entirely separate from our competition.

Our customers may be evaluating our offerings in a different context–against a very different competitor. For example, if they are looking at customer experience, they may be comparing us with an organization in a completely different space. For example, they may compare our customer experience with what they’ve experienced at Disney, or perhaps at the Ritz Carlton. This may be their model of great customer experience.

The basis for evaluating solutions goes beyond the capabilities of what we sell. Our customers’ basis of comparison may be completely unrelated experiences. For example, it might be ease of doing business, and they will compare us to their best buying experience in other categories. Or it might be their pre-post buying experiences.

These tend to be more oriented to how we make them feel, rather than what we actually ship/deliver.

Since these experiences color how our customers view our (and our competitors offerings), if we understand their basis of comparison, we can better understand their expectations and how we present our capabilities and the experience we create with them.

In addition to understanding those great experiences, we have to understand negative experiences–things that may inadvertently trigger negative reactions. For example, they may have been involved in buying something completely different, and something about the experience was very negative. We may, inadvertently, be doing similar things, triggering those negative reactions.

Our customers’ decision criteria is never just about what we sell and how what we sell compares to the alternatives. There are many other factors that impact how customers make decisions, until we understand these, we may be missing a key “competitor.”