Are You Shopping for Success? ©
By Terri L. Norvell, Business Coach & Consultant

Knowledge is power and this is especially true when it comes to market awareness and information. In any business, you can compete more effectively when you know the competition. A solid Market Knowledge Strategy includes shopping competitive companies on a regular basis and this article will give you the steps for success.

What Do You Want to Accomplish?
Start with the end in mind when preparing to visit another competitor. The time spent shopping is an investment to gain valuable knowledge for your marketing edge and employee development. All team members should have a goal to shop other companies on a monthly basis.

    Is there a new firm opening in your area?
    Is it time to reposition your site?
    Has the market changed?
    Does a new employee need to be acclimated into our business?
Shopping provides a fresh perspective, a discovery of opportunities in the market place, the pulse on current trends, a look at successful programs and strategies used by others, and the building of relationships. Shopping should include firms in your immediate market area and outside of your niche sub-market, especially brand new competitors, related industries (fresh approaches). and while visiting non-related markets.

Action Application
Use shopping as an educational tool for your team members. Teach the process of shopping in your weekly team meetings. Routine practice helps to "train the eye" to see what is working and what isn't, and then by comparison at your own business.

The Shopping Day
Blind shop or "open and honest"? Blind shop if you want to gain information from a prospective buyer's perspective. An open shop is more beneficial because you can learn how you are doing relative to your competition and you are able to ask industry specific questions. Questions that provide a depth of information include:

    What's on your wish list if you could change anything?
    What could you add to make your job easier?
    What is the most popular program or service you offer?
    Why do people purchase your product or shop here?
Either a blind or open shop strategy will provide an opportunity to form impressions, learn the level of their attention to detail, measure staff friendliness and knowledge, see their marketing approach…and gain ideas to differentiate and set you apart. Develop a Shopping Checklist in advance, to be certain you accomplish your intended results.

Action Application
Brief employees on what information can and cannot be given to individuals outside of your company. Expect to shop and be shopped routinely. Forming relationships and having an open and honest approach is strategic, yet decide in advance and educate the front line team regarding how to answer probing questions. In addition, determine the common data that will assist you to stay on top of your market.

Bright Ideas
So what do you do with the data gained from a competitive shop? Use the information like gold! Whether you blind shop or open shop, the perspectives and ideas can be beneficial to many of your team members. Share this timely information via team meetings (good presentation practice), summary reports, e-mails, etc. Enable your entire team to benefit from the investment of someone's time. Create a shopping binder with pictures, brochures, ads, programs, rates, promotions, etc. for documentation and future tracking.

Action Application
After each shop, have the team member list three key observations in the following areas: the most positive aspects of the visited firm; the dominate issues, problems or obstacles the firm needs to overcome; the lessons they learned; the applications that can be applied immediately or within a timeframe to your business. What new benchmarks will you set for yourself and your team?

Terri Norvell is a national business coach and consultant
for fast growing and entrepreneurial businesses.

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