Any time you want to make new moves in your business, from introducing a new product line to expanding into new markets, you need to evaluate the competition first. That’s obvious and I take it for granted that everyone reading this post right now is routinely keeping tabs of their competitors – I’m right, aren’t I?

What I wanted to do today is to look at some of the different ways to research the competition:

  • Google search. This is the very first step in your competitive intelligence analysis and also the easiest and fastest. You don’t even have to leave your desk, you just need to do some Googling and you’ll come up with all sorts of information: Web pages, blogs, social media, feedback from customers, etc etc. Depending on the nature of your business, some of these channels might not apply, but what I’d suggest is to be ready to leave your comfort zone. I operate in an extremely technical industry but this is no reason I can’t have a blog and share ideas with business professionals worldwide.
  • Customer inquiries. Now I’m used to dealing with the Internet, online marketing and blogs, but I come from an age where competitive intelligence was carried out through traditional approaches, like simply speaking to customers. If you gain a new customer, you can find out a lot of valuable information, from who they used before to why they switched suppliers. And the same applies if you lose a customer: ask why.
  • Supplier inquiries. If you operate in a business where you and your competitors share the same suppliers, then you might take advantage of that. It’s trickier, because suppliers may not explicitly unveil your competitor’s orders or volume, but you might be able to infer additional information by asking different kinds of questions. Like I did when I was younger — see the next checkmark.
  • Competitor on-site inquiries. I’m not sure how doable it is nowadays. but when I was appointed sales manager for the first time I did real on-site research on my competitors. I actually went in person to the plant, driving for miles by myself to reach the place and trying to collect first-hand information — by chatting with the employees, for instance. I would approach them in a coffee bar and ask questions like “How do you like working here?”, “Are you paid well?”, “How many of you are there?”, which could give me an idea of my competitor. As I said, this is not that easy today, but what I have learned is that getting to know your competition well means digging deep: just as in the past browsing a brochure wasn’t enough, so today the same applies with browsing the Internet. In my opinion, relationship-based and live research (for example, by attending a conference or trade fair) are still highly valuable in terms of competition monitoring.

If you have any comments, input or observations, feel free to share them here. I’d be happy to know your thoughts.

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If you have any comments, input or observations, feel free to share them here. I’d be happy to know your thoughts.

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