Keeping an eye on the competition

Posted in Sales techniques and processes.

Many companies see their competitors as enemies. But you know what they say about keeping your enemies closer than your friends – looking towards your competitors for inspiration can be much more productive than fighting against them. Keeping an eye on the movements of your competition can help you learn from their mistakes and prevent you from doing the same in future. It can also tell you what they are doing right, and how you can emulate these techniques. Another positive of competitor-watching is that it may reveal key areas where they’re missing out on essential target markets that you may be able to engage with.

With that being said, how can you observe and report on your competitors’ movements to benefit you in the long run?

Begin at your desk

The best place to start is to simply look for your competitors on the Internet. Type the companies’ names you want to research on a search engine and see what results you get. Are there are any sites or blogs where customers have provided any negative or positive feedback?

It should go without saying but browse through your competitors’ websites. View anything that may be of importance to your research like press releases, pricing lists, corporate vision and investor relations. These things can tell you whether your pricing is competitive enough, what new products they will be releasing or what their corporate or distribution strategy is. What is the message that their website is trying to convey to potential customers?

Go social

It stands to reason that most companies have some sort of social media presence such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and so forth. Join all of the social groups your competitors have set up. This will give you an idea of their strategy with regards to communicating with customers and alert you to the latest news. You can also sign up for any newsletters and subscribe to blogs created by your competitors or those relating to them.

Use professional resources

There are research companies like Gartner and Forrester Research that regularly publish reports on industry trends and profiles on the main competitors in the marketplace. Sometimes these reports can be downloaded free of charge from the Internet. However, some companies like Hoover’s provide subscription-based services where one can get detailed, regular information about specific companies and industries.

Ask the customers

This is an easy way to get competitor information. When you win a new customer you can ask them whether they came from another company and why they decided to go elsewhere. You can also ask them why they choose to use you instead of your competitors.

Even customers that you have lost can be useful for this type of research. Identify why they left your company and went to a competitor. Do they offer products you don’t? Was their customer service better or did they offer additional benefits you don’t’?

Visit conferences and trade shows

Visit the booths of your competitors at trade shows. While there, observe how they interact with their customers, see what they have to offer, gather literature, and check the quality of their products.

Conferences are also a great place to mingle with people in the same industry and discover the latest industry trends. You could also join industry-related associations.

Keep monitoring

Don’t rest on your laurels once you’ve done your research. Stay up-to-date on the movement of competitors and look out for changes in:

*  Visual identity (branding) and messaging
*  Products, services and pricing
*  Advertising
*  Company team members (new recruits and rotation)
*  Key target market locations
*  Promotions