You've probably experienced the "keeping up with the Joneses" phenomenon. "Over at Acme, they're running ads on Widgets Daily! That's why they keep getting the business!" Or, "Why can't we have a ten-city seminar tour like they do?" The general theme: their kick-ass marketing people are doing all the right things and you're not, and that's why our salespeople are all under quota!
And sometimes it's true, but usually it's not. Moreover, it speaks to a general focus problem that Pamela Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation writes about in this post:
But some business owners get so focused on every move a competitor makes that they completely lose focus on their own business. At the extreme, it is not only distracting, it is downright self-destructive.
I lived through an example of this working with a very talented artist and dance instructor in the 1990s. He was creatively brilliant and a gifted teacher. But he was completely obsessed with other instructors in the area and would fly into a rage if a student from his school left to join another school. At a certain point, he was as focused on studying, subverting and badmouthing the competition as he was on creating new art and building his own school.
Pamela offers some tips, aimed at the small-business-owner audience of her blog, but there is an important larger lesson here: the value of your business and brand comes from what you do, not from one-upping the competition.
There will always be competitors, either direct or indirect (such as "don't automate that process" or "don't do anything new"). If there are none, it suggests that you've picked a crappy market. And yes, you must pay attention to them, evaluate their tactics, and take them into account.
Just don't let that make you lose your focus, either tactical or strategic. If you decided on one set of marketing programs because all the data tells you that your competitors are probably burning money without sufficient return on their approach, stay on that path (but keep measuring to make sure you're right). If a competitor keeps winning business you're after, ask yourself if you're targeting the right customers and providing the right messages - maybe they address a different segment than you.
Ask those questions, analyze what's happening, but don't lose track of your fundamental business, promise to your customers, and value. When you get into a defensive, follow-the-competition mode, it's very hard to get out of it.