The Reality of Rivalry
Getting to know the competition & how it can help you improve

There is no shortage of public information about your competitors that can be gleaned from a distance, whether it’s via social media, press releases or websites. But what do you really know about the competition and the work they do?

In a competitive industry like construction, there is often a cellular response to dislike or begrudge the competition (it probably starts as a twitch at the sight of their logo, or branding colors that might evoke hatred and nausea). Aside from their logo and colors, you may know very little about your competitors — and it could be beneficial to your business to know more.

Consider some of the great rivalries in business – McDonald’s vs. Burger King, Coke vs. Pepsi, Nike vs. Reebok. While most of the public sees these conflicts from the sidelines, there are countless business strategists and tacticians working feverishly behind the scenes to find the secret sauce. In the construction world, however, it’s not as common to have information on the competition.




This is not about corporate espionage but, rather, research and knowledge about what makes your competition tick. What makes them fundamentally different from you? Can you answer the following questions about your competitors with realistic and fact-based responses?

On what work does your competition get invited to bid against you?

Why do they get selected by the same customers as you?


Why do people choose to work for them instead of you?

What do they offer that you don’t?


The operative words here are “realistic” and “fact-based” responses. It’s easy to assume the competition’s bids are too low — maybe even impractical. Yet, project after project, the competition is still standing and, in many cases, thriving.

Additionally, plenty of businesses have made less-than-stellar business decisions, but it is misguided to discount those decisions as stupidity. It might be hard to hear, but the truth is that some businesses are just better than you at some tasks, and you have work to do to seek out their secret ingredient.




Right, I did say this wasn’t about espionage. But reconnaissance doesn’t have to be cloak and dagger. One of the first recon points is simply asking your customers what they think. In the court of public opinion, you might go to the main witness, but you might not always like the answers. Asking the question of your customers should be handled with grace, and should not have the air of a petulant 5-year-old. Instead, it would be helpful to conduct your examination as follows:

What does our competition do that we should integrate in our workstream?

What is your greatest frustration with us? What could we improve upon?


Which types of projects do you associate with our firm?

Short of price, what are the most important things a contractor can do for your business or project?


Some end users and decision-makers would like to appear as if price is not the most important factor. And, while many businesses do have fiscal responsibilities, they are also likely to have other project priorities that are harder to articulate. You may have a perception of what your customer holds in high value, but have you ever actually asked them? If you are too focused on price, you could end up dropping the ball on other drivers, like schedule and safety. And your competition may take notice of those failures. But, if your competitors also forget to focus on the important questions, they may get the price wrong when you get it right.



Another method of reconnaissance is observing jobsites (from a distance, of course). Remember to never trespass. However, for instance, on a large project site, it’s easy to drive by and make the following observations:

Methods and means — “So, that’s
how they bid it!” Would the three estimators in your own firm bid something identical? When you see a project being built, you begin to realize that the view from the cheap seats can provide interesting insights into others’ ways of doing things.

Subcontractors — It doesn’t take James Bond to uncover the subcontractors and suppliers a project is utilizing. That same drive-by can provide quick knowledge about who has been brought into the fold. There may be new construction partners or possibilities that you had not been aware of or even considered as an option before now.



Subcontractors are another interesting source of information. But don’t pursue their inside information via intense police questioning, conducted in the confines of a small room with a single light bulb and uncomfortable chairs. It is important to respect that these trade partners regularly work across a spectrum of competitors, and it is misguided to suggest they share any confidential information that could be used against them later.

However, much like your earlier question to the customer, asking, “What could we do better to help you perform?” You may put a similar inquiry to your subcontractors to question, “Is there anything Brand X does in the execution of their work that we could add on our projects to help you?”



The competitive landscape is as dynamic as ever and it morphs more frequently than we think. Just when we learn those secret ingredients, a good competitor develops a new recipe. Additionally, it can become time-consuming to worry too much about keeping up with the Joneses.

A firm cannot succeed solely by learning what makes their competition great and simply applying those elements of strategy to their own. Knowing how the competition operates is only one-quarter of the whole. Ultimately, acquiring information on the competition may not include the secret sauce, but it can provide insight into why they do what they do.