Who is your competition?

Competition - Human and Robot

“Who is your competition?” That’s a question I ask my clients all the time, and it used to be so simple.

Your competition was the guy just like you, and you just had to offer a slightly different or better service, or to be a better marketer, in order to stay competitive.

But today, the game has completely changed. As I read a new book by Tom Friedman, “Thank You For Being Late”, I’m realizing more than ever that we’re living in what Tom calls the “Age Of Acceleration”. The question of “Who’s your competition”, which used to be so easy to answer, is now much more murky and complex. Everything is changing, and we can either rail against it, as so many in America are doing today, or adapt.

As John Mitchel, attorney general of the U.S. for the Nixon Administration once said, “It is hard to get the toothpaste back in the tube after you let it out.” The fact is, change has already happened, and things aren’t likely to go back to the way they were.

So who IS your competition, and how can you compete with them?

Your biggest competition might not even be human

When I was working in the technology sector, we talked about something called “dis-intimidation” – which is basically a five-dollar term for “We’re making you unnecessary”. That is what Amazon has done to booksellers, and is now doing with every other type of retailer. Throughout our economy, processes are becoming increasingly automated. This decreases your potential clients’ reliance on you to provide services and information that they can now get from an app or the internet instead.

That doesn’t mean ALL your clients will flock to Amazon, but enough have already done so that it’s easier for the little shoppe around the corner to compete for the few remaining offline shoppers than it is for a big mega-bookstore. To explore who your real competition is, how they compete with you, and how you can keep your business competitive and successful in today’s accelerated market, I’ll use mortgage brokers as an example.

Who’s the biggest competition for home mortgage brokers?

If I look at mortgage brokers in Pittsburgh in Google, this is what I find.

On that search page, you’ll see four main groups:

  • Paid ads at the top of the page
  • A Google Maps object for local searches
  • The top ten organic SEO pages
  • Paid ads at the bottom

In the number one position at the top of the paid ads, you’ll probably see Rocket Loans by Quicken. This app is a big contender for your client base – especially the millennials, who are accustomed to doing things themselves through online programs rather than asking an expert for help.

How big a contender is this app for your client base?

Last year, when I went to my weekly BNI chapter meeting, I heard a mortgage broker claim that a person using the Quicken Loans Rocket Mortgage app was a great referral, because there were so many problems with the app, or because they “needed” guidance and help.

As it turns out, that’s not as true as you might have hoped. When it launched in 2015, Quicken had 6% of the mortgage market in the United States. Now, almost 2 years later, only Quicken knows how much their percentage of the market has increased, but I do know that through 2016, Quicken Loans has been awarded seven consecutive J.D. Power customer satisfaction awards for loan origination.

Experts believe that’s a sign of things to come, and I agree.

How does it work?

To help you compare the app to your current offering, I’d like to paint a picture of how your potential clients would use it.

Here’s an example:

A millennial couple is out for a nice bike ride. They aren’t even thinking about buying a house, but they both have their phones with them. Then they see a house for sale, and it’s exactly what they want in a home. Purely on a whim, they take out their smartphones and look the property up on Zillow . There, they can see what the listing price is, what the taxes cost, and everything else they need to know about the home, from the year it was built to the last sale price.

Armed with this information, they can now:

  • Get prequalified through Zillow, which will route them to lenders
  • Search for lenders through an app like Lending Tree
  • Apply for a mortgage through Rocket

At this point, they haven’t even talked to an agent, but they’ve already seen fifty pictures of the home, and gotten pre-approved for a mortgage through Quicken. If one of them was entering the information into Zillow, and the other entered the information into Rocket simultaneously, the process was even faster and more efficient than what I just described.

Before the age of apps, your main competition would have been the top ten companies in the Google Search, the banks, and the local firms shown in the map section. Now, all three of these groups have been replaced by one or two apps on a phone.

This couple, which was not even looking for a house, already has a mortgage preapproval, and might even have an inspector lined up – and they haven’t even talked to a real estate agent yet, let alone a mortgage broker!

The traditional model of relying on a real estate agent to convince their customers to get pre-approved has been blown out of the water by an app. So what does this mean for you, as a mortgage broker, if you used to rely on referrals from real estate agents to get clients?

You need to find new ways to attract clients

If you want potential clients to choose you over the app, you need to find a way to insert yourself into the process before they start the journey I described. If the customer is like the millennial couple in the example, this can be a challenge, but it isn’t impossible.

Here are a few things you can do to stay competitive in this new, efficient high-tech market

Have your own mobile app

If your customers are looking for a mobile app to meet their mortgage needs, you can give yourself an advantage by offering them exactly what they’re looking for.

By creating a mobile app for your business or having one created, you not only give yourself a fighting chance against Rocket, but you get a competitive edge over the people who are trying to convince clients to try their solution rather than giving them the solution they already want.

Make sure your local directory listings are accurate and up-to-date

Not everybody goes straight to Rocket. Sometimes, they’ll look up local businesses on Google, and if they do that, it’s important that your business is clearly visible in their search results. Do a quick Google search of your industry in your town – for example, “mortgage brokers in Brandon, Florida”. Next, see if your business is in those directories. If it is, is the information accurate? Are the picture and description attractive? Do you have good reviews?

If not, then rectifying those problems can help you catch the attention of clients who might have missed you otherwise.

Also, although it might not fit our mortgage broker example, make sure all of your service categories are listed.  If you are only listed as an pest treatment company – but also have bed bug mole, rodent, stinging insect and termites as offering list the most important ones.  A customer looking for bed bug treatments is going to enter bed bug treatments near me in to their phone as soon as they see a bed bug.  Don’t miss out because you do not have that listed.

Give them information they want, and use it to offer products they need

If Rocket gives clients a way to get preapproved for a mortgage as soon as they think they might need one, before they even talk to a person, one way around that is to get their attention before they start thinking they need Rocket.

Take a moment to ask yourself: “If someone was in a position where they might consider getting a new home, but they aren’t actively looking yet, what questions or problems might they have?” Or, “If someone was considering seeking a mortgage, but they weren’t sure whether to hire a pro or use an app, what questions would they have?”

For example, the first group of people might be a young couple who’s had a few kids, and is starting to consider the idea that they might need a bigger house. To get their attention, you could write a blog post or article about how to tell when your kids need a bigger house, or about which neighborhoods are the best and safest for children, and publish it on your own site or in a parenting ezine.

And if you want to attract the second group, you could write an article about the advantages of hiring a mortgage broker over using an app, and the problems they could encounter without the help of a human expert.

By starting to build your relationship with them before they even realize that they need your services, you help to ensure that when they DO want a mortgage, you’re the first provider they’ll think about.

Want more help to stay competitive and attract clients in today’s high-tech environment?

Regardless of your industry, you need to do some serious strategic and critical thinking when it comes to operating your small business.  Hopefully, you’re thinking outside the box a bit more now than you were before you read this entry.

The good news is, you don’t need to do this on your own. If you want to bring more leads and customers to your business, to make a difference in your community, and to stay ahead of your competition as technology evolves, we want to help.  Simply subscribe to our newsletter from our blog for regular tips about things you can do your self to market your business in the “age of acceleration”.  We will be presenting weekly insight into the problems around living in the 21st century and the rapid changes going on around us and how those changes affect our businesses.

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