Learn to love the competition!

Nobody likes to think about competitors. We all want to believe that we are the only ones in the running. And when we actually ARE running, that's a good thing. Not so much beforehand, when taking an objective look at competitors - how they are likely to run their race - can actually help make ours better.

In developing a strategy to win business, we need to identify what the customer most wants, what we can best deliver, and what will position us most favourably against competitors.

The discussion about competitors is usually the most challenging one for us to have. Most of us don't really want to entertain the idea that we might have competition. It makes us defensive, uncomfortable, dismissive, fearful and sometimes angry. 

I totally understand where this comes from. Obsessing about competitors isn't most people’s happy place. (It’s not mine either.) But in fact, understanding competitors helps us to judge what they might do or say. This can pay big dividends when we are under pressure.

For example, imagine you're sitting on stage taking part in a public debate. Your opposition has just made a fantastic point and the audience is cheering hard. You have 10 seconds to get on your feet to respond. Would you feel more confident having anticipated that point the night before, and having a response ready, or being forced to think on your feet?

Bishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has campaigned against apartheid, poverty, AIDS and non-democratic government, has seen more than his fair share of pressure in public debate and has some good advice to offer.

"Don't raise your voice," Tutu says. "Improve your argument."

Understanding competitors helps us to improve our arguments. In a formal bid or tender, the customer is actively seeking many points of view. Ours is just one of them. By understanding what others might do or say, and having a plan to combat this, we are giving our own arguments their best chance to shine.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.