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How to keep track of the competition
Competitive intelligence strategies to keep you ahead of the competition.
When you’re vying for customers’ dollars and loyalty, it is important to know where you stand relative to the competition. Just like a football coach who is scouting upcoming opponents, having competitive intelligence can bring competitors’ strengths and weaknesses into focus. Yet, diverting resources to a competitive analysis can seem unrealistic for smaller businesses that have little manpower to spare.
Here are some tips to help make the competitive analysis simple, relatively quick and well worth the time you devote to it.
Use the Web strategically
The Internet provides a wealth of information about your industry — so the primary challenge is to focus only on the most relevant competition. Start locally first. If your business is very location based, such as a bakery, use online directories such as Yahoo! Local or Yelp to identify competitors in nearby ZIP codes.
"A little brainstorming is necessary to turn competitive analysis of your business intelligence into growth."
To gain a sense of important businesses in your industry on a broader scale, search local and national tradeshow and exposition websites. Scour the lists of past exhibitors. Also, read industry blogs and trade publications. And while industry guides won’t provide information on specific companies, they can give you a sense of benchmarks and averages for your industry.
Visit your competitors’ websites and social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, to see how your competition engages with customers. Twitter is a great tool for competitive intelligence because not only can you see tweets, you can see what content is generating the most conversation. Search keywords and terms on Twitter by using the hashtag (#) symbol before a keyword, like #businesscompetition or #competitiveanalysis, which denotes buzz phrases in the industry that are being discussed on Twitter. Use Twitter search directories such as Twellow and WeFollow to find other competitors in your industry. Topsy.com is a website that identifies which posts are getting the most re-tweets, along with other analytics.
Finding your competitors’ pages on Facebook is an excellent tool to identify how they are interacting with their customers, if at all. You may have to “like” the page with your personal account to access it. Look at how competitors are using their Facebook page: Are they collecting e-mail addresses? Do they offer customer service? If so, what do they offer? Are they offering promotions? Do they link to other social media?
Next, use the information you gather to improve your Facebook page by linking blog content, asking poll questions or adding photos that showcase your company in a positive manner. In addition to Twitter and Facebook, run searches for companies on LinkedIn to see statistics about their employees, and on YouTube to view any video marketing. Gauge the opinion of customers about businesses by checking out reviews on websites such as Google Places.
You can also set up Google Alerts, which is a free program run by Google that allows you to track any term or name — including your competitors’ brands — to see when they are mentioned on websites. You can choose to receive alerts through e-mail once a day or as the search engine finds the keyword or term on the Web.
Network in real life
Many business owners and entrepreneurs think competitive intelligence means behind-the-scenes research on competitors, but it also encompasses learning about other markets, new business strategies and ways to innovate. The value of engaging with other business owners can’t be overstated.
“Make sure to meet other business owners because no two businesses are the same,” says Bonnie Hohhof, former Director of Competitive Intelligence Research and Information at Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals. “When you talk to other businesses you learn about new markets and new ways of thinking.”
To connect with other business owners who can help you gain industry intelligence, Hohhof suggests doing the following:
Meet other business owners in person. This could start with an online search for “economic gardening” organizations in your area, which are local and statewide associations that promote smart economic growth through networking.
Join a board or economic group like your local chamber of commerce.
Attend industry events and tradeshows to meet other business owners and see how they are presenting their product or service. You can use the Internet to find networking groups and events by searching smallbiz.meetup.com.
Use your new-found intelligence
The point of competitive intelligence is to help you surpass the competition. So after you’ve completed your research, do a SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Note the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors. Identify how their weaknesses might provide opportunities for your company to excel and how their strengths might be a threat to your success. A little brainstorming is necessary to turn competitive analysis of your business intelligence into growth. But the time spent on research is worth it.