11 Strong Tips on How to Research Competitors [+Template]
Competitor research is crucial to the success of any product or service as no business operates in a vacuum. But the usual tactics of market research may not be sufficient to reveal critical competitive intelligence. Competitor research needs a specialized set of processes that use data to uncover actionable intelligence.
This doesn’t mean that the process must be complicated or tedious. Using proven methods and frameworks, businesses of any size can objectively research their competitors without having to set aside significant resources or time. This will help them to better price and position their products and services and even develop solutions that are in sync with the expected market forces.
Based on a comprehensive analysis of successful firms, here are 11 tips that you can use to uncover crucial competitive intelligence. You will also find a competitor research template at the end of this article.
1. Build a Tiered Competitor List
The first step in gaining competitive intelligence would be to make a tiered list of your three or four top competitors. These are the businesses you would need to track in-depth. Some could be direct rivals and some might have a different core competency but with products or services that would compete with yours.
You should also research emerging competitors as most of these challenger brands would have disruptive technologies or processes. According to research, there’s a 77 percent chance that your greatest competitor might still be unknown to you.
Your tier 1 list of ~3-5 competitors should be tracked in-depth. This means configuring AI-based platforms to track the competitors and to enhance that with primary and secondary research including things like win-loss interviews performed regularly. For the tier 2 list, you should start with mainly tracking news alerts on a weekly or monthly basis so you’re not caught off guard by any surprising developments but also so you manage your time accordingly.
How do I find a company's competitors?
To discover who your top competitors are, ask your sales, product, and marketing teams. They will have a list of companies they track. If you’re in a new market or looking for emerging competitors, check out who is sponsoring events, advertising on similar keywords (tools like SEMRush are great for this), and who is writing content or posting on social media with similar topics.
Ideally, you will have a field in your CRM to track which competitors are coming up frequently in deals. This will help expose top competitors based on the frequency they come up in deals, show who you win vs. lose against, and emerging competitors.
2. Go Beyond News and Websites
A cursory search of news outlets or websites doesn’t constitute competitor research. What you find could be outdated or irrelevant data. That’s why you should find alternative data from unbiased sources.
You should look at online research reports, job postings (with the required expertise), thought leadership pieces from your competitors’ leaders, social media posts, etc. You should also pay attention to what market analysts have to say about your competitors.
Additionally, when you’re looking at performing competitor research on tier 1 competitors, consider hiring a vendor to perform primary research and deliver a SWOT analysis for a truly unbiased view of what you need to do to stand out and win against the competition.
3. Leverage the Power of AI to Automate the Process
It can be difficult for humans to do the monitoring and filtering considering the number of sources and the regularity with which you will have to do it. That’s why you should use AI to monitor and filter these channels.
You can use technology to collect data and generate insights. You can also use natural language processing (NLP) for analyzing unstructured data.
Keep in mind when starting with AI that it takes time for AI to learn what is truly relevant. It will likely take a few weeks or months to fine-tune the relevancy. Furthermore, don’t stop with AI data collection and filtering. It doesn’t matter if you have a lot of data on competitors if you’re unable to apply it to build to an outcome. Make sure the platform you are using includes data visualization and a curated analysis on top. This will really level up your competitor research and take it from interesting to actionable.
4. Win/Loss Sales Analysis
Another important source for competitor research would be the data from your sales conversions. You can analyze your sales transcripts and compare your performance against those of your competitors.
Importantly, you should interview your prospects regardless of your ability to convert the leads. This might shed light on how others would have approached them and what the influential factors would have been. It would also help to engage with your existing customers post their contract renewal.
There is a myriad of great intelligence you can gather from a competitor win/loss analysis. You can learn about pitching styles, pricing and discounts, market perception, etc. All this will help shine a light on how your strategy is coming together for a sustainable advantage. A best practice here is to group the feedback you’re getting by parameters like geography, company size, industry, etc. which will also help inform where you fit the best.
5. Talk to Suppliers
Your suppliers and vendors are also credible sources to gauge competitive intelligence. Hold detailed discussions with them to understand what others are demanding from them. Even if they don’t divulge much, you might unearth some general trends.
This will also allow you to learn how suppliers work with your competitors. You will know the differences between the two systems which will also reveal their agility.
6. Hire from Your Competitors
You don’t have to publicly state it when you recruit but you can mention the skill sets that your competitors may have. This is another instance where technology can be of help. You can use AI to filter candidates from your competitors.
This is especially true for key roles. Once they get into the system, you’ll gain valuable insight into the operations of your competitors. Any successful hire will also encourage others to jump ship from your competition.
7. Leverage Primary & Secondary Research
Whenever there are linguistic or socio-cultural considerations, primary and secondary research can help you in competitor research. Broad sectoral analysis might downplay those influences but pointed research into your competition might reveal what makes them perform the way they do.
In particular when doing competitor research in regions like Europe, make sure to work with a person or vendor that can understand how the diverse culture impacts the needs and answers.
Other than conducting research, you can also get competitor research from third-party sources like credible research institutions or universities. This is how you discover needle-in-a-haystack findings.
8. Centralize Intelligence
The intelligence you gather should be centrally curated. It should also be easy to understand for stakeholders within the system. This means it needs to be elegantly visualized, formatted, summarized, and easily searchable.
This centralized intelligence should also be easy to access without the need for bureaucratic permissions. Having a central knowledge management tool to collect intelligence and store intelligence is great. Make sure this platform has strong search capabilities given the amount of research that will be collected. Furthermore, having SSO capabilities is a major plus to make it easy to implement.
Once you’re convinced about the authenticity, you should integrate it with your collaborative tools like Slack, Teams, Salesforce, or Dynamics. The most effective enterprise teams typically setup their integrations 6-12 months after initial configuration. This ensures the research being shared is relevant and actionable.
9. Gather Continuously
Competitor research shouldn’t be an annual or quarterly activity or something you do when you have a product to launch or market to enter. You need to monitor it regularly and diligently, with daily or weekly reports to gain an advantage.
Individuals who leverage competitive intelligence weekly are two times more likely to drive impact, according to a study by SCIP.
Continuous monitoring also means you won’t miss a beat on what’s happening and you have the ability to stay ahead of market trends.
10. Knowledge Curation Should Enable Actions
The focus shouldn’t be just to accumulate competitive intelligence. It should be to collate insights and make them actionable for the internal stakeholders. Voluminous and nebulous reports seldom lead to proactive measures.
Source the key takeaways and summarize them keeping in mind the demands of the internal teams who will have to use it. For example, a white paper on the organizational structure of your competitors would be too generic for any department to take action.
11. Proactively Deliver Intelligence
To gain impact from competitive research, you need to proactively deliver intel to key stakeholders. How to research competitors in the gigabytes of new data being thrown onto the web every day? Google Alerts is a great way to get started for free. There are a lot of competitive intelligence platforms that provide additional collection, filtering, distribution, and customization options. You can set up Google alerts to know if your competitors are in the news. But ensure that these are personalized to the needs of the user. You can also use newsletters to proactively deliver competitive intelligence.
Don’t rely on someone to remember to look. They will have to be alerted. In other words, your system shouldn’t be surprised by what your competitor does.
The average business has 5 main competitors and 20 lesser competitors. Competitor research isn’t just a luxury anymore. It’s what organizations will have to consciously pursue to effectively acquire, retain, and grow their customer base.