Most people would assume that every business owner is intimately familiar with his competition. From the outside looking in, competition appears to be what business is all about.

But as a business owner, it is surprisingly easy to lose track of the competition. There are so many details that must be managed, including employees, accounting, fulfillment, and more and it’s easy for a business owner to be consumed by these tasks. Does this sound familiar? I know I’ve experienced this in my own business, and seen clients go through the same process.

If your goal is to build a world-class business, however, you must find the discipline to adopt a “big-picture” perspective with regards to your market and your competition. This is important for many different reasons, but one of the most important is so that your sales team can be effective.

If you don’t know what your competition is offering, you can’t be sure that your message and your offer will appeal to a prospect that may be “comparison shopping.” This sounds like an obvious point, but be honest, when’s the last time you have taken the time to research your competitors’ marketing strategy?

Specifically, here are four questions to ask:

  1. What are they charging? It may not always be easy to find out prices, but with a bit of research you’ll be able to at least come up with a range. Now, as I’ve written elsewhere, your goal shouldn’t be to be the cheapest option. But it’s still important that you understand your competitor’s pricing, so that you can set your prices and corresponding service / product levels accordingly.

  2. What are they offering? What types of packages can customers choose from? Are your competitors bundling products and services in a way you haven’t of yet? Are they offering seasonal promotions?

  3. What needs are they meeting? In theory, you and your competitors are seeking to meet similar needs for your customers, that’s why you are competing. But it’s important to keep an eye on the core message of your competitors so that you are aware of changing trends or the emergence of new “needs” that can be met by your business.

  4. Who are they pursuing? Who are your competitors targeting with their marketing? Are they pursuing new target markets that you haven’t explored yet?

It’s important that you’re aware of the competition in your market. This awareness will allow you to calibrate your sales and marketing message for maximum appeal. But doing so takes discipline. As a small business owner, it’s easy to get lost in the business of day-to-day management. Make it a point to check up on your competition regularly, once every few months is usually a good timeframe.