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Understanding what your competitors are doing and how your current and potential customers view them is critical. Competitive intelligence should be collected and used to inform your company’s strategy and new product and service development process both in the short- and long-run. Without effective competitive intelligence, it’s difficult to develop a winning strategy and appropriately invest in new products and services that will not only appeal to customers, but also yield positive financial results that will help your company remain competitive over time. While there are many ways to keep tabs on your competitors, below are four easy and cost-effective ways to do so.
When it comes to learning more about what your competitors are doing, start by asking your sales team. Often, customers and potential customers share information about competitor prices, discounts, new offerings and what concerns they have about both your and your competitors’ products and/or services to sales representatives. Thus, it’s important to ask your sales team to share what input they’ve received from those they’ve talked to and include them in the strategic decision-making process. Using insights provided by customers to inform strategic decisions is key to remaining competitive and stealing share from competitors in the long-run.
If your sales team is not currently asking customers questions such as, “How do you decide who to buy from?,” “When you don’t buy from us, who do you buy from and why?,” “Who is your top supplier of products/services and why?”, “Why have you stopped buying from us as much?,” “What new products or services are you interested in?,” etc., then it will be difficult for your company to identify potential issues or make changes quickly in order to keep up with or stay ahead of the competition. Also, collecting insights from current and prospective customers can help your sales team become more effective, assuming they use the information they’ve collected to adjust how they sell particular products and services to customers and routinely share it with other key decision-makers.
Monitoring your competitors’ social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. is another easy and cost-effective way to learn more about what they are doing and how customers and the general public are reacting. By tracking their social media activity, you can monitor, in real time, what promotions they are running, examine what new products or services they are launching, gain insight into their customer service, learn more about any new partnerships they have formed and assess how they are marketing themselves in general.
In addition to monitoring competitors’ social media accounts, companies can learn a lot from reading customer reviews on sites such as Yelp, Google and Amazon. In many cases, by routinely checking those sites, you can learn what customers like and dislike about your competitors’ products and/or services and use that information to make changes within your own company to stay ahead of the competition.
Companies can also actively monitor competitor websites to gain insights into how they are branding and marketing themselves, and identify if there are any other significant events not reflected on other online platforms. In addition to monitoring competitor websites, companies should sign up for any newsletters or promotional emails offered through competitors and should set up Google alerts, so they’ll have immediate access to any information released to the public.
Regardless of what approach you take to monitoring your competitors’ online footprint, it’s an important, free and easy way to gain insights that can help improve and transform your own company, its products and services.
Directly engaging and interacting with your customers is one of the best ways to collect competitive intelligence. Conducting surveys, focus groups, interviewing customers one-on-one, hosting events and issuing surveys are all great ways to seek information.
Prior to engaging your customer base, you should determine what information you’d like to collect about your competitors and then determine the best method to gather it. Focus groups, for example, are best when you want to gather qualitative information from customers. Focus groups will not only help you understand what your customers think about competitors, their services and products, but also why they think that way. You can directly ask customers when and why they prefer competitors and truly understand the motivation and logic behind their responses. From there, you can use the information to make adjustments within your own company.
One-on-one interviews are best when you are keen on understanding what drives the behavior of your most important customers. Interviews are a great way to enhance the relationship you have with key customers and are also useful if you are seeking specific feedback about what drives customers to switch providers or suppliers both in the short-term and long-term. Interviews also provide you with an opportunity to ask customers what they think of your competition and the products and services that they offer. Obtaining detailed feedback from customers is critical to understanding how best to attract and retain your customer base in the long-run.
Hosting events is best when you want showcase and allow a large number of current or prospective customers to try your products and/or services. This forum allows for real-time feedback and provides you with the opportunity to ask detailed questions to those in attendance about how they feel about your products and/or services, their features and how they compare to competitors. In this environment, you can also observe how people are interacting with your products and/or services and make note of any recommended changes or issues experienced by those at the event.
Focus groups, interviews and events are great ways to obtain qualitative feedback from customers about your company and your competitors. Surveys are best, however, if you want to use quantitative data to analyze and help support your hypotheses about your products, services or competitors. Surveys should be short, focused and offer incentives to those who complete them in an effort to ensure that you obtain an adequate and diversified sample size. Surveys are a great way to ask a large number of customers specific questions about your company, products and/or services, and how they compare to key competitors. The data collected from surveys is most powerful when it can be used to segment customers into different groups (i.e. price sensitive, high-touch, service-oriented, quality-oriented). Segmentation can help companies make more informed and strategic decisions about how best to serve and retain specific customer groups, and how best to fend off competitors.
Most industries hold conferences or trade shows at least once a year. Attending these events is a great way to gain access to a large amount of information about what your competitors are currently doing and what they have planned for the future. Conferences and trade shows also help highlight what new trends, products, services, resources, technology, etc. are emerging in your industry. By attending these events, you should be able to better assess your company’s current position as compared to your competitors and determine what actions and/or investments your company needs to make in order to keep up with or stay ahead of key competitors. Lastly, these events provide companies with an opportunity to talk directly to their competitors and, as a result, can be used to explore potential strategic partnerships or alliances that may be mutually beneficial to both parties. After all, sometimes it’s better to work with a competitor than it is to fight against them for customers!
Regardless of whether you use one or all of the methods outlined above to keep tabs on your competitors, there is no doubt that you will gain valuable insights that can be used to inform your strategy, improve your products and services, boost your revenue and help you remain competitive in the marketplace.
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