Why Your Company Needs a Nemesis

As a gamer, I know the value of competition. So when one of our clients saw a new competitor spring up, I felt a heady mixture of adrenalin and joy. Someone to take down!

I’m joking, of course. Sort of. They say that one Walmart executive used to keep pictures of competitors on the walls for inspiration, starting each day by asking himself, “Which one of these guys is going to get my customers’ money today?”

Why you need a nemesis

Having a nemesis — a competitor to work against — can be motivating and even fun.

  • It gives you something to track. Now that getting top rankings on Google is nothing like a video game and most of our clients are pretty blasé about their ever-increasing web traffic, tracking where you are compared to your favorite competitor can be satisfying.
  • It gives you something to obsess about. Take it from me, there’s no point in obsessing about being #1 on Google, and of course you always obsess about providing awesome products and services. That’s serious, not fun. On those days when you don’t really feel motivated, you check out what your nemesis is doing and get fired up.
  • It gives you perspective. Everybody starts at zero, and slow and steady wins the race. But aren’t there days when you’d like to be racing toward victory? Seeing that your competitor is also working slowly toward sensible goals can help you keep from feeling like you’re not getting what you deserve.
  • You can learn from your nemesis. If you choose the right nemesis (see below for more on that), you can see what your competitor is doing and how well it’s working… or not. You don’t have to make all the mistakes yourself.
  • It limits infighting. Instead of letting the people in Sales get all persnickety with the people from Marketing or turning the Project Manager loose on the Developers, unite in working against your nemesis.

How to pick a nemesis

You might already have an obvious nemesis. Your main competitor could be someone you already know very well. You might have a friendly competition going, or they might not even realize that you’re planning to take them down.

If you don’t have an obvious competitor, you can still find a nemesis. Here’s how:

  • Pick someone who’s in roughly your weight class. It’s no fun to compete with Amazon (unless you’re Walmart), and it’s also no fun to compete with a company that is so far beneath you that working against them would just look mean. You need to find a company that’s about the same size, with a similar level of visibility.
  • Pick someone you respect. One of the great things about having a nemesis is that you can learn from them. Don’t pick a company that has nothing to teach you. You want to be excited when you overtake them.
  • Pick someone with similar offerings. If your lipstick beat their salsa, so what? You have to compare apples with apples to conquer someone effectively, so make sure your nemesis is in the same business as you.
  • Don’t worry about staying local. Your nemesis doesn’t have to be local. If you have to go far afield to find a worthy foe, that’s fine. You need to have some kind of access to data on them, but that’s no limitation nowadays. Go ahead and use Spyfu, Hubspot’s Marketing Grader, Social Crawlytics, or the stalking tool of your choice.

What should you do with what you learn?

What should you always do with your data? Find action items, steps that will make a difference for your company. Your nemesis is talking about their philanthropy and you keep yours quiet? There’s something to change. Your nemesis has created a spiffy new package and yours hasn’t been updated in years? Take a leaf from their book. They’ve sailed ahead of you for one of your top keywords? Figure out what they’ve done that you haven’t.

On the other hand, if your nemesis just bought a bunch of Twitter followers, go ahead and gloat — but don’t copy them. The object of the exercise is to make your company better.


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