When to beat them and when to join them

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Friday, August 1, 2003

As I travel across the country meeting with security professionals, I have noticed a disturbing trend. Many of these companies seem to focus their energies on what they perceive to be the competition.

When your competition becomes a focus in your company, what happens to what really counts – your business? Energies are spent worrying about the competition until the competition becomes the bad guy and the focus is on the evil competitor and what his next move may be. Another word for focus is obsess and any time you obsess on one thing, everything else becomes blurry. You become preoccupied, consumed and lose sight of the big picture. When business isn’t as good as it should or could be it’s not because of anything management or employees are doing, it’s the fault of the evil competitor.

Don’t get me wrong; no company should operate in a vacuum. But when the competition is the focus and that focus controls every aspect of your business, then you have a major problem.

That’s when you should ask yourself, “Is this the best way for me to run my business? Is this the best way to compete in today’s security marketplace?” No, it isn’t. Worrying about what your competitor is doing is often a counter productive waste of time and often a disservice to those most important to you and your business.

Is it bad to think about the competition? Not necessarily. Knowing your competition is part of a good marketing plan and just smart business practice to understand their strategies. But like any other type of information, we must control how it affects us and what we do about it.

Focus vs. fear

Most of the successful companies I visit do not focus on the competition nor do they fear their competitors. Naturally they recognize where they are in the marketplace in comparison to their competitors but they choose to focus on the customer, their own employees and the internal processes necessary to make themselves and their companies better and easier to work with and for.

Instead of spending the afternoon worrying about what your toughest competitor is up to, try focusing on your customers’ wants and needs. Plan to study and improve what makes your top producers happy to be employed by your company. This might surprise you, but it’s not only about money. Most customers and employees start out conscious of costs and wages, but end up concentrating on value. For customers, value is the combination of price, quality and service.

Remember who counts

Consider offering opportunities to your employees that make their jobs easier and more productive. Think about what added incentives you can offer to your customers that will make them return and even tell others about your company. Management must always be mindful of their competitors but the really strong business leaders focus on their customers, employees and the future. Dollars spent on bringing your customers and employees to the next level will pay dividends far into the future.

Of course, there has always been competition. During the past decade we’ve dealt with mass marketers, RBOCs and other industries – each wanting a piece of the security pie. But the industry has also changed significantly. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, considering the mergers, acquisitions, new technologies and integration that have taken place.

Those changes have placed us within a new paradigm and a new way of thinking. In a way, the definition of our competition has changed. No longer should we see everyone as a competitor but as an asset that will help your business to grow. There are tremendous opportunities available today - including ones with the competition - that will open many doors. Yet too many within the industry see this as a threat and choose not to participate. That’s a huge mistake.

Potential in partnerships

This may sound harsh but there really isn’t a security systems integration company today that is providing outstanding service on a nationwide basis. That lack is an opportunity for potential partnering and strategic alliances between large companies, mid-size companies and the small independent entrepreneur. Those opportunities abound outside of our industry as well. Security systems integrators can network with electronic systems integrators or installing dealers – relationships that once were considered competition and anathema to each respective industry.

What will this mean? Synergy and growth. The new relationships will allow the security industry to learn, network and ally themselves with others as well as reaffirm and strengthen existing relationships. For instance, security systems integrators will profit from an electronic systems integrator’s expertise in audio, video, a/v presentation, telecommunications, data networking and lighting control, while electronic systems integrators will benefit from a security systems integrator’s knowledge in the security and life safety areas.

For small, privately owned integration companies there is an opportunity to obtain business that otherwise they might not have access to. They can either join together and network or even start offering those types of services themselves.

This is an individual decision for each company. If you want to specialize in providing security only for small, local companies then there is probably no need to partner with a large defense contractor or a nationwide systems contractor. But, if you do choose to participate in national or regional accounts, then it’s in your best interest to partner.

Where do you want to focus today? It’s your choice and your opportunity.

Bill Bozeman is president and chief executive officer of PSA Security Network, an electronic security cooperative. He can be reached at 303-252-8607 or via email at bill@psasecurity.com.