Surprisingly few companies will actively profile their competitors, and yet it’s a vital and easy step in order to better understand the sales landscape, get new ideas, innovate and make important changes.
Consider, for one moment, that you are a competitive swimmer about to train for the Olympics. Wouldn’t you want to know who you are up against? How the other swimmers are faring? How often they train? What they are doing to be the best they can be? Yes, of course you would.
So how about looking at your business in the same way. Gaining a greater understanding of where you are in the ranks, and looking at what muscles your competitors are flexing.
Here’s a quick guide to competitor profiling:
- Capture their data and brochures, whatever collateral the are issuing (and bear in mind this is all old news)
- Mine the data for their prices, a comprehensive product list, discounts, payment structures, policies, etc.
- Look at the suppliers to your competitors. Are they assembling, subcontracting manufacture, or do they have factories? Look at the potential supply chain issues that can give your competitors serious problems.
- Keep files on their media releases and set up a Google Alert for them so you can watch when they are being named by the media
- Check out their financial prowess. Records from credit agencies and companies house. Review their year of end reports. Compare these with previous years.
- Understand their top people – what are their drives, what else have they done? How long are they going to stick around?
- Understand their stakeholders? Build up a dossier on the company’s investors, their ethics and standards. If there are major shareholders, where else do they invest?
- Get to understand the company’s sales people, look at their history, their personal profiles. Look at their weaknesses and strengths. (Check them out on LinkedIn to see their connections and past)
- Review their customers too – are they geographically sensitive, or belong to a particular business category? What else do their customers buy?
Future-proofing your business by understanding their future products/services
- This might be a little trickier, but you want to know what these competitors are going to be doing in the future, so just check any customers that you might share, and aim to be uber-chatty, and remember to keep an ear out for any information the customer shares with you.
- Quality control – again ask the buyers (your customer) about any quality issues they may have experienced. Remember you’re asking gently and not trying to probe, so if a customer isn’t prepared to talk about your competitor, then leave it at that.
- Quality control #2 – this is likely to show up in customer forums, product reviews, etc. Set that Google Alert for product/brand names as well as the company name.
- Get your sales people to understand the importance of competitor profiling, so they too will listen out for news on the grapevine, and share with you.
- Visit exhibitions and check out their stands. Chat with sales people to gain more information.
- Appoint one person as the competitor profiler. Make this a tangible part of their job, so they know this information is valued and shared.
- Keep all these files up to date and relevant.
- Look out for new competitors, or new potential competitors
- Keep an eye out for potential acquisitions and mergers.
In the final analysis you want to understand their weaknesses and understand their strengths. Because you can then work yours around the lessons that they have already learned. But you also want to ensure that you measure up well alongside them. And that means profiling your own business….
Profiling your own business
Using the metrics you have created in your competitor research, start applying these to your own company. You might find it easier to employ a mystery shopper or even ask a very new member of staff to do the work.
Not just the competition – it’s your whole market
Yes it’s going to be great to size yourself up against the competition, but this will also enable you to understand the whole marketplace, far better than by taking your results alone. Ultimately this is vital information that can shape your business dramatically.