Know Your Competition

know your business competitionBecoming an expert on your competition is a vital success strategy in today’s business world. When you understand what you’re up against in your field, it gives you an opportunity to carve a competitive edge. But just as you would with other critical business strategies, you want to develop a plan to ensure you’ll get a quality competitive analysis, allocating the time you need in planning sessions to do it right as well. With the best information in hand, you’ll be better able to make smart decisions about your business’ future.

Here are four ways to get the data and feedback you need.

Shop your competition. Depending on what kind of business you’re in, maybe you place calls to find out about products, services and incentives, or perhaps you personally (yet indiscreetly) visit and explore the competition. Don’t just assess product/sales, but pay attention to the people, pitches, teamwork, attitudes, and energy. Take a holistic approach as you gather facts about your competitors.

Scout out competitors’ websites. This is a great, initial way to get a really good sense about your competition. In fact, when I was looking at MAP as a potential employer, I reviewed not just MAP’s website but competitors’ websites. Aside from comparing who offered and did what, I got a solid feel for who was ahead (and behind) in the “game.” I also learned about their value propositions, cultures, beliefs and goals.

Delegate this duty — if you can. You need to know about your competitors, but it doesn’t mean you have to be the one in the trenches, doing all the investigating. If possible, assign this to your marketing department or a reliable direct report who is detail oriented and creative, loves research, and would appreciate this unique professional opportunity.

Talk to competitors’ customers/clients. “It can be tricky, but getting your finger on the pulse of what your competitors’ customers are doing is always possible,” says Allan Hauptfeld, president of Vantage Research + Consulting, Inc. The two easiest ways, he says, include:

  • the “category” survey and/or focus group, which comes across to the participant(s) as a general category study, yet it contains information about the client’s competitor, thus helps the client. If your category is broad and customers are easy to find, this can work great — and a good example would be Coke vs. Pepsi. It can be more challenging and expensive if your business is more niche or the competitors have a small market share. Since straightforward surveys and focus groups each have their pros/cons, definitely explore those differences first.
  • the third-party syndicated study, available for purchase. Several research companies do category surveys on spec, and then they sell the reports to clients. With syndicated studies, all clients cost-share the more expensive categories. The pro: cheaper study; the con: very little ability to customize it to the client's needs. To help with the price tag, sometimes industry associations do shared-cost studies for their members.

In addition to those two popular approaches, Hauptfeld says, “Intercepts — either ‘open’ or ‘clandestine’ — can be fun. These involve intercepting and chatting with customers either openly or undercover on the premise of the business or just outside the exit.” And again, a good understanding of these two methodologies’ advantages and disadvantages is always an important, first step to ensuring your success.

What are some of your survey success stories — or lessons learned?

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