The Ultimate Compliment is an Aggressive Competitor

The ultimate compliment is to have a competitor attack what you do. Obsess about you. Challenge everything you do. Because this means you are making an impact.

If you want to know how well-respected your business acumen is, look no further than your competitors. Do they react to what you do in-market? Or do they ignore you?

As Winston Churchill said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something worthwhile, sometime in your life.”

In business the same is true. If your competitors don’t react to the efforts you do to build share, this means you aren’t really doing anything of significance. The ultimate compliment is to have a competitor attack what you do. Obsess about you. Challenge everything you do. React to every little initiative you take. Because this means you are making an impact. It means they fear you. It means you dictate the rules of the game. You set the tone, and they keep reacting and following.

And in this context, who is going to win long-term? You are.

A few weeks ago I was consulting with a team. And I made the comment that what was being planned would surely bring competitive response. Some of the team in response wondered if we should “tone down” the activity. I said, “Absolutely not,” and then explained the principle that having a competitor react to you is a good thing. It tells you that you are doing the right things. If they don’t react, they don’t care. And indifference is the worst thing one can expect from a competitor. Indifference means they don’t fear you at all. It means they don’t care.

When I returned to the Philippines in my current role, we were a new entrant, facing an uphill battle to reform excise taxes to level the playing field for all companies. After all, the pre-existing system was based on the “date of birth” of a brand. If you were here in 1996 or before, you paid one tax rate. But if you came after 1996, you paid another. Clearly not a system designed to promote open and free trade, but one designed to prevent new competition from entering. Meaning, protect the brands already here.

So here I was, with a nonexistent share and only four employees. And the competition was a near-monopoly. A 90-percent-share entity concerned with a zero-percent-share company? You would think not.

Think again.

Over the course of more or less one year leading up to excise tax reform, one “journalist” wrote over 160 articles over 12 months, bashing excise reform as well as myself personally and my company. That is over three per week! On the same topic! Other “journalists,” the same group of three or four, wrote the same genre of articles yet less frequently. And the funny thing is, they never called to get my side of the story before writing. Hmm… one would think in journalism school they teach you the basic principle of talking to all sources, including to the subject of the article, before publishing! I guess they must have skipped class the day they taught journalism in journalism school.

Clearly, someone was concerned. Afraid. Perhaps with a bit of an unhealthy obsession.

As we know, the right choice was made and excise reform was enacted. It has been an overwhelming success on every key measure. And all the predictions of doom and gloom? All wrong. All of it. And yet nobody has stood up until now and admitted how wrong they were!

As of January 2013, the playing field was level. And now we get started in really competing. But we still have less than a one-percent share of market — next to nothing.

We launch a new brand, one with innovation to stand out from the crowd. And what does our key competitor do? They first launch a new brand to counter my brand. Then they launch a second of the same genre! But wait, then they launch a third brand to counter. So let’s get this straight: three brands to counter one brand from a little competitor? This spells a four-letter word, and not a dirty one at that:

And the best part of the story is, the business still grows month on month. Shares are at record levels. Sales per store are at record levels. And why? Because we are setting the rules of the game. Competition is in reactive mode. The company that sets the rules of the game and has everyone reacting always ends up winning.

So the moral of the story is, don’t be afraid of competitive reaction. Embrace it. It means you are calling the shots. You are playing your game, and forcing competition to react to you. A competitor who is stirred up by what you are doing is a scared competitor — one who does nothing but follow your lead.

Fear paralyzes teams and organizations because “anticipation of death is worse than death itself.” Fear of losing is worse than the actual loss. So a competitor in fear is a competitor spinning their wheels.

“Bring it on,” we say. The more, the better. Because every new reaction just reinforces that we are doing the right thing.