What’s your excuse for a lack of competitive intelligence? Have you ever said to yourself: “All of my competition is privately held, I can’t do research on my competitors.” Sound familiar?
What about the Internet? Also sound familiar? In our hyper-wired Internet driven world, there isn’t much you can’t research – even when it comes to your competitors. You just have to be willing to do the work.
Hoover’s Database – And Other Resources You Should Be Using
Hoover’s database tracks more than 16 million privately held companies. www.hoovers.com
Is all of its information completely accurate? Of course not. We’re not looking for three-decimal precision, but rather enough insight to discover revenue trends, number of people employed, markets and customers served, competitor culture and environment etc.
You won’t find the ‘soft stuff’ from Hoovers or Dun & Bradstreet, but it’s easy to poke around on your competition’s websites and check out the LinkedIn profiles of their key executives (don’t forget to go “stealth mode” when doing reconnaissance on LinkedIn).
Google’s Gift To the Business World
When was the last time you ‘Googled your competitors’? There is a wealth of information to be found in just a few simple searches. Do research regularly to find out about your competitor’s new partners, initiatives and if they have got themselves into any hot water recently. Need an even simpler solution? Set up a Google Alerts feed focused around the most important players in your market and get newsworthy information delivered directly to your email as frequently as you wish.
Google is an amazing resource – if you’re not using it to your advantage you’re missing out on a free opportunity to stay up to date about what’s going on out there. The expectation isn’t that every ceo or business owner should be spending hundreds of hours a month doing this research on their own, but rather tasking the appropriate resources within their organization to make this a priority in their role. With that said, if your kids haven’t already mentioned it, you should know how to “just Google it”!
How The Data Can Help
Just collecting the data is not enough to boost your competitive intelligence. You have to use it effectively. For example, knowing the revenue and the number of people working at competing companies lets you calculate the dollars in revenue generated for each person on their payroll. This is an important efficiency indicator. Learn the industry benchmark for this number so you understand where you and your competitors fit. If your revenue per employee is high compared to your industry, good for you. If it’s low or your competitors are lower than the benchmark, you need to understand why.
The same thing goes for revenue growth rates over time or ‘cost of goods sold’ and ‘gross profit’ of competitors. None of this insight provides some magic answer to making your business successful, however it is imperative to facilitating successful strategic thinking conversations.
Sales Force & Customer Service Intelligence
If you have ‘feet on the street’ in the form of sales or service reps, or customer-facing people who spend much of their days on the phone with customers, the resources you need to capture competitive intelligence are just outside your office door. Even casual conversations waiting for that next pot of coffee to brew can yield very useful information.
If you are using a contact manager like ACT or even Outlook, creating fields to capture information from those conversations is well worth the effort. Find a tool that will work well for you and make logging the information you gather from your employees’ part of your daily routine. You also need to enable people in your company to contribute their knowledge about the competitive landscape. Develop a process, train your team, and communicate directly to let them know how valuable their contributions are to the Strategic Thinking Team. A little bit of effort and organization can turn everyone in your company into valuable sources of competitive (and market) intelligence.
Your Competitive Landscape
Rita McGrath at Columbia University writes about today’s competitive environment and the ‘models of competition’ in her book “The End of Competitive Advantage”. She believes that the ‘old model’ of creating a competitive position and building a moat around it – one wide enough to keep competitors out – is dying, and maybe already dead. Today, the rate of change and business evolution is so fast that your competitive position is a ‘fleeting advantage’ at best.
The rate of change today is head-spinning and only speeding up (check out David Houle’s “The Shift Age” for more on that challenge). To stay relevant, you have to keep reinventing and responding to your environment. Knowing your competitive landscape and acquiring as much information as possible about competitors is want you want in your Strategic Thinking Toolkit so your company can be the ‘fastest rabbit’ on the playing field.
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