Do you know the enemy?
Do you know your enemy?
Well gotta know the enemy.
I got a call this week from a friend and former colleague. He was at an industry conference and wanted to vent some frustration. You see he discovered after arriving that his competitor has an almost identical product to his and he was finding it difficult to differentiate “on the fly”.
After a short conversation I determined it wasn’t a failure of product development but rather of competitive intelligence that plagued my dear friend. He wasn’t given an opportunity to Zig while the others Zagged and improve his brand position in the marketplace. There was little I could do for him as he stood on the conference show floor but in the future I recommend:
1) Data Mining
This isn’t rocket science. Start with our old friend Google and type in “link:www.xyzcompany.com”. This will tell you what websites have links to the company you are researching. While you will likely get some basic information off the companies own website but who they are partnering with or affiliated with is of more use if they are a competitor of yours.
2) Ask around
Chances are if this company has been a competitor for a while there is a lot of heresy information already floating around in your organization. Email your sales force and see who came up against them in previous sales. If you hear of a recent win against the company ask to speak to the customer who selected you. Customers are often willing to share their internal decision spreadsheets and pro/con lists after the selection process is over. In fact I have had customers who are more than willing to do a post mortem of the overly involved and arduous process they went through to make a purchase decision. This data is competitive intelligence gold when preparing for the next battle.
3) Third party street cred
Analysts, journalists, bloggers exist for almost every industry. It pays to make friends with a few of them. This isn’t going to be where you score super secret “inside” information but it is a good place to bounce some ideas around. Enlisting a few friends from this community can get your products and services mentioned in more trade publications along side your competitors and cultivating those relationships can allow the competitive analysis to be done in a public and objective forum. You have to be willing to accept that not always will your company receive the most favorable standing or mention but it gives you a measuring stick to work from.
4) The enemy of my enemy is my friend
Did your competitor recently go through nasty breakup with a partner or vendor? Where they in merger talks that fell apart? It doesn’t hurt to contact that other party to see if there is mutual interest. You might just find a match made in heaven or at the very least some insight as to why your competitor chose to go in a different direction.
An important note:
Not all competitive intelligence is fair play. Get acquainted with the Economic Espionage Act . The first rule of ethical competitive intelligence is honesty. Be honest about who you are and why you want the information you are seeking. This article from Bnet gives some common sense rules to follow. If in doubt the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals can be a guide for what is and isn’t inbounds.
As you can see competitive intelligence doesn’t have to be a costly or difficult part of your marketing efforts. It does take time and attention to develop the small pieces of scattered information that you are able to gather into a library of data but at the end of the day you can make even 007 proud of your sleuthy skills.