In a competitive marketplace, up-to-date information can make the difference between keeping pace, getting ahead, or being left behind. Business is a game and only the team with the best players wins. To win, you need to know your strengths and weaknesses as well as that of your competition. Knowledge of thyself alone is no longer sufficient to remain competitive.
“If you are ignorant of both your enemy and yourself, then you are a fool and certain to be defeated in every battle.”
No matter how much you think you know about your business, no matter how much experience you have in your chosen field, without a clear understanding of the competitions in the market, you might as well be driving blind.
Big companies spend thousands of dollars to conduct competitive market analysis, but fortunately for those of you on a tight budget, you can do quite a bit of this yourself, without spending much at all.
This unusual article is about how you can effectively gather information about your competition and how to use that information to beat the competition.
Let’s get started!
What Is Competitive Intelligence?
Competitive Intelligence is the purposeful and coordinated monitoring of your competitor(s), wherever and whoever they may be, within a specific marketplace… Your “competitors” are those firms which you consider rivals in business, and with whom you compete for market share. Competitive Intelligence also has to do with determining what your business rivals WILL DO before they do it. Strategically, to gain foreknowledge of your competitor’s plans and to plan your business strategy to counter their plans.
The goal of a competitor analysis is to develop a profile of the nature of strategy changes each competitor might make, each competitor’s possible response to the range of likely strategic moves other firms could make, and each competitor’s likely reaction to industry changes and environmental shifts that might take place. Competitive intelligence should have a single-minded objective –to develop the strategies and tactics necessary to transfer market share profitably and consistently from specific competitors to your company.
Competitive intelligence is the core of competitive strategy!
Have A Goal In Mind: What Do You Want To Know?
The very first step in carrying out an effective competitive analysis or research on your competition is to have an objective in mind; what exactly do you want to know? It’s already been stated above that the key purpose of competitive intelligence is to give you sufficient knowledge about the activities of your competitions in order to make better strategic decisions and actions that will give you a competitive edge in the market.
It’s totally unwise to start out without any aim in mind or without any specific information to sought for, so here are some of the key things you need to learn about your competition:
Who are the major competitors in the market?
What’s their current share of the market you’ve identified?
Have there been any significant changes in the market share each competitor has had over the past five to ten years [i.e. who’s moving up and who’s moving down]?
Which of your competitors address which segments and which of them are strongest in those segments?
What are your competitors’ strategies for reaching your target market, as well as any segments on which they focus?
Now that you know the types of questions for which you’re seeking answers [and there are many more, but these should get you started], it’s time to actually do the competitive research and to do that, there are two major approaches;
- Researching the competition online
- Researching the competition offline
How To Research Your Competitions Online
Traditionally, finding out about competitor activity might have been a lengthy and costly process. But now, with the help of the internet, you can easily access lots of useful information about your competition. Here are some ways to get started in being your own competitive intelligence gatherer on the Web and it won’t cost anything, but time.
1. Google It:
Well it’s true what they say; there’s hardly anything online that Google doesn’t know about, including information about your competitions. The very first step to take while conducting a research about your competition online is to Google them.
A simple search about your competition or major players in your industry can reveal a lot about their overall corporate strategy, their next product launch, their recent hiring and even customer complaints and reviews. All these are valuable information that can give you an added advantage while making strategic decisions and planning strategic competitive actions.
Besides using the search feature of Google, there are other useful tools from Google that can provide more information about your competitions such as;
- Google Alerts: allows users to set up alerts by keywords and phrases that trigger an e-mail notification and link every time that word or phrase pops up on a site, blog, or news story — depending on how the alert is configured. A business primarily concerned about three top competitors, for example, might set up a Google alert on all three companies and their top executives monitoring every time they get a mention online. Remember to also set up alerts for your own company so you can monitor what’s being said about you, and keep track of your direct and indirect competitors.
- Google Trends: This is a great tool for keeping track of what’s hot and what’s not in your industry. By using this tool, you can keep track of the major trends in your industry and most especially take note of the trendsetters; these are your competitions who are making things happen.
2. Use Industry Specific Sites:
While Google is a good place to start your research about competitions, it might not provide certain insider information. This is when using industry specific sites comes in handy; these are sites that gather relevant information about companies from trusted sources such as Corporate Affairs Commission in Nigeria, Companies House in the UK and in the USA, the local, state or federal government agencies.
In Nigeria, the Corporate Affairs Commission is a good starting point. For UK, visiting industry specific sites such as Duedil where you can access companies house data and search for information on millions of businesses is something to bear in mind. And for the US, visiting the websites of relevant local, state and federal agencies would help.
3. Use Social Media:
Given how companies are increasingly using social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter as marketing outlets these days, you might be able to pick up interesting facts about your competition—and maybe even your own company—just by tuning in. Follow all your competitions on twitter, like their Facebook fan pages, connect with their key people on LinkedIn and subscribe to the YouTube channels!
Even if your competition isn’t social media savvy, it’s a good bet that they produce newsletters—either e-mail or print varieties—that you can sign up for to get the latest and greatest news and updates on things like new products or services they are introducing and what events they might be attending.
4. Look At Keywords:
Over 80% of all online transactions begin with a keyword search. To compete, you need to target all the relevant keywords. Keywords are the specific terms or phrases people entered into search engines to get to your website or your competitor’s website. In order to be as visible as your competition on major search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. you need to find out what keywords they are using to rank well on search engines and equally start using them.
One way of doing this is to simply look at the code of their websites. Simply go to the site and click on “View” at the top of the browser, then “Source” or “Page Source” depending on your browser. A page of html code will pop up and the keywords will be buried in the code near the top of the page. If you can’t do this, talk to your web designer and if they can’t also help, then talk to us. Our differentiate online internet marketing services covers all these.
5. Monitor Traffic and Back links:
Traffic are the number of visitors that come to your office online –website. And back links are other websites that have your website or a page of your website on their own website. They are also known as external links. By doing this, they help improve the number of visitors that come to your website from their website.
Monitoring the number of visitors and the sources [back links] from which these visitors come to your competitor’s websites gives you a clue into potential websites that you also need to have your websites or a page of your website on. Since they are sending your competitions traffic, there is also a likelihood that they will also send you traffic if you can get your website listed or mentioned there.
For monitoring traffic, this information is easy to track on such free sites as Alexa.com and Quantcast.com. And for monitoring back links, there are tools in Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools that let you track the domains linking to your site. Both of these tools are free and give you a great deal of information that you can use to maximize your site’s presence on the web. You can also use back link watch, it is equally free.
6. Scan Review Sites:
A review site is a website on which reviews can be posted about people, businesses, products, or services. A customer review is a review or feedback about a product or service made by a customer who has purchased the product or service. These are done using review sites such as; Google places for business, Yelp, Yahoo! Local listings, CitySearch, MerchantCircle, InsiderPages, Angie’s List and many others.
Using these review sites like can help reveal certain information about your competition, especially your local competitions and the complaints or praises from their customers. The good thing about scanning review sites is the first hand customer information they provide about your competitions; their strengths and weaknesses are easily at your disposal and you can then respond accordingly with a superior competitive strategy.
7. Get Professional Help:
All these can be very overwhelming especially for businesses that are not very internet savvy. This is where hiring the services of a professional internet marketing company comes in handy. They can help you strip your competitions naked and provide you with detailed report that will help you stay ahead of the competitions.
Like I mentioned above, we can help you out through our differentiate online internet marketing services for smart businesses. Give us a call today!
How To Research Your Competitions Offline
Here are additional ways to research the competition using other offline sources;
8. Ask Your Customers:
When it comes to identifying sources of information about your competition, don’t skip over the obvious ones—like your customers. Speaking to customers is one of the best [and cheapest] ways of gathering real information on competitors. Whenever you win a new customer, find out who they used before, and why they switched to you [i.e. the reason they were dissatisfied with their previous supplier].
Do the same when you lose a customer; identify what they preferred about your competitor. If you gather enough of these stories you’ll get a very clear idea on what competitors are offering that customers view as preferable. You can then adjust your own offering to beat that of the competitor.
9. Attending Industry Trade Shows And Conferences:
Attending industry trade shows and conferences—as well as joining industry associations—can be a great way to learn about who your competitors are and what they’re offering.
10. Read Industry Journals/Publications:
Also subscribing to and reading relevant industry journals/publications can also reveal useful information about your competitions. The closer and more connected you are to industry updates through these publications will give you sufficient insights about the movers and shakers in your industry. And when you do, you can put them on your competitive research radar!
11. Keep An Eye On Their Staff:
Another strategy is to hire employees from competing firms, especially sales people. No one knows more about the inside of your competition’s business than the employees. Find out all that you can about how they operate, and more importantly, what’s the future like for them?
Where are they taking their business? What markets are they venturing into? How are they leveraging innovation to cut costs and advance productivity? Where is the highest level of dissatisfaction with their products or services?
You can also learn something by studying the kinds of jobs your competitors are looking to fill. For example, if a company is hiring a web programmer, they will include information about exactly what technologies the candidates need to know, which tells you what they use.
Also look at what positions they are hiring; if they’re looking for a patent attorney, they could be working on some big new inventions. If they’re hiring for several HR, they may be preparing to expand overall.
Generally, monitoring the hiring needs of your competitions gives you a clue about the direction the company is heading and a glimpse of what their future would look like in terms of product launch and innovations.
12. Become A Mystery Shopper At Your Competitions:
Mystery shopping or a mystery consumer is a tool used externally by market research companies, watchdog organizations, or internally by companies themselves to measure quality of service, or compliance with regulation, or to gather specific information about products and services. The mystery consumer’s specific identity and purpose is generally not known by the establishment being evaluated.
Mystery shoppers perform specific tasks such as purchasing a product, asking questions, registering complaints or behaving in a certain way, and then provide detailed reports or feedback about their experiences. This can also be used to gather information about your competitions by sending people to buy from your competition or make enquiries about their products/services.
Keeping an eye on your competitions is a sound business strategy that will not only help you make better strategic decisions and actions, but will also help you stay ahead of the competition. Start with the steps discussed above and come up with other creative, but legal means of gathering more information about your competitions in business.
What other steps or means have you used to tap into useful information about your competitions in business?
Join the conversation, drop your comments below. Thanks!