Competition is like pinball

When I was growing up, we didn’t have video games, and Pong (early TV video game for you young folks) didn’t come out until 1972. We played baseball, football and basketball, and we were always outside competing at one of these.

But we also had our indoor competition at the pinball machine down at the College Hill gas station, where we could hang out with a Pepsi and bag of Snyder’s chips and compete, dropping nickels and dimes into the pinball machine.

Now, pinball was simple, and the objective was to “win five more balls” so we could play again without spending more of our hard-earned money, money that normally came from cashing in pop bottles we found and getting two cents for a regular glass bottle and five cents for the coveted quart bottle. Life was good.

It is the same with our companies as we look to generate revenue, profits and cash flow, so we don’t have to ask investors for more nickels and dimes — and our first born in some cases.

In business, you must know your competition and know how they keep playing. What is their secret to success, and how can you get some of that action? How can you get five more balls so you can keep playing?

Beating the competition

When I was with a large company early in my career, we knew who the competition was. They always came up in meetings, but we never really had to deal with them at the lower levels.

When I started working at smaller companies, startups and a higher level, I had to know everything about the competition and what made them have success in the market with their product offerings.

It was always fun at the major trade shows to snoop around competitor booths, sneak a peek at what they were doing and try to get inside if we could. After all, we wanted to win. We wanted to beat the competition.

As Coach Vince Lombardi once said, “If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?” And we certainly do keep score with our financial statements and stock prices.

More than numbers

Businesses need to know how they stack up to competitors in each area of business management. And it’s not always about the numbers. (I can’t believe I just said that.) It’s also about how your competitors treat their customers — the level of service and support they offer, discounts, warranties, training and other levels of satisfaction important to the customer. If these things are important to the competition’s customer base, they are important to your customers, as well.

Back to a sports analogy, it’s hard to argue that the most successful professional sports teams, like the Steelers, Patriots, Packers and Penguins, among others, know their opponents’ every move. It still amazes me how fast a hockey coach reacts to a line change, for example. They are prepared for every move — just as you need to be in your business venture.


John W. Manzetti is the managing director of Manzetti Group LLC. John is an award-winning, visionary financial and business leader, technology entrepreneur, startup adviser, investor and expert on the topics of economic development, venture capital formation and the commercialization of innovation. He wrote a book in 2018, “Small Bites of the Elephant,” where he uses straight talk and anecdotes to help small business owners and entrepreneurs address complex business issues.