"Microsoft has had clear competitors in the past.
It's good that we have museums to document them."
-- Bill Gates
The first time I read this quote, I chuckled. The second time, I laughed out loud. Now I just get excited. It is an awesome quote to me and effectively uses humor to make a very good point: If you're leading, there is no competition. That is the best place to be--and here's the strange, but very good news: every business can be there any time they choose.
In my limited travels, I have seen businesses that are always watching what the competition is doing. Many of them are concerned what they will do next, upset about what they are doing now, complaining about how they do what they do and trying to understand why they do it the way they do it. They compare sales numbers and/or profit numbers when they can get them. They compare buildings, personnel, what they do on the web and the list goes on and on.
Here's a great suggestion: give it up and focus all that attention on your own business. Concentrate on providing not just good service, but off-the-chart exceptional service; something the customer cannot possibly forget. Concentrate on improving products and your building and all the things a customer might touch or see.
Concentrate on the most basic communications and expand from there. For example, I know of a number of companies where the phone is handled so poorly when a call comes in, yet they ignore this and focus their time, energy and money on things that don't really make a difference. If you're trying to get the phone to ring with advertising, the Internet, or whatever, it makes perfect sense to make sure the call is handled extremely well and effectively, right? Is it? How many calls go to voice mail without any attempt to gather information manually? I know I hate getting voice mail automatically myself, so I am sure I am not alone in that.
Common courtesy, kindly thoughtful service and pleasant people will never go out of style regardless of the market. I see a lot of shift of focus to the Internet but much of it is forsaking the most basic of services.
A business without competition is the one who is focused clearly on providing effective service to customers and growing their market by being the best they can be regardless of who else is out there doing similar things. Leaders are leading.