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Competitive Intelligence

5 Insider Tips for Uncovering Competitive Intel

February 26, 2016 by Nate d'Oliveira

James Bond, probably the most famous spy of all time, always outsmarts his foes. Heading into battle, 007 knows who he’s up against, what kind of firepower they are packing and what it will take to win. And so, he does.

Most companies with more than 500 employees have a James Bond. Someone, usually working in Competitive Intelligence (CI) or Product Marketing, who hunts and captures intel from competitors. The number of competitors has grown significantly over the years, and it’s becoming incredibly difficult for companies to just maintain market share when barrier to entry has decreased and disruption is everywhere. A crowded market amplifies the importance of understanding the competition: what they’ve done, what they’re doing and where they may be headed in the future. In the end, it’s about making the best decisions possible, and sometimes it takes a bit of Bond-level espionage to acquire the intel needed to do so.

There are many existing resources online that you can add to your arsenal. The internet is a treasure trove of competitive intel. The challenge is knowing where (and where not) to look.

The basics

Company websites, social media channels and blogs are great places to start. Google alerts, RSS feeds, site scraping and maybe a martech tool to track web metrics and keywords. Now, you’re starting to accumulate a lot of data from disparate sources and it’s still, at the end of the day, one dimensional. Where do you go from there? It depends on what kind of intel you are looking for.

This post looks at product-related intel, like features, APIs and integrations. Next month, I’ll dive into some secret (but entirely above board) sources of rival financials and more.

The big guns

Analyst reports by Forrester, Gartner, and IDC establish a set of criteria, collect data from the marketplace (sometimes directly from vendors themselves) and evaluate a group of products within a particular category. They analyze strategy, market presence and a variety of other criteria. These reports and spreadsheets are one of the best ways for you to understand your competition from a functional-standpoint. The most recent version of a report in your product category will be expensive (think thousands), but older versions can be incredible helpful and can often be accessed for free.

Tip: Search Forrester Wave (or any other analyst firm) + Competitor Name.

User-generated content

G2 Crowd, GetApp and TrustRadius are examples of sites that organize product information and customer reviews. You get real user perspective that highlights strengths and weaknesses and often offers pricing intel, too.

Advanced search

Google’s advanced search is incredibly useful for finding the details that companies don’t showcase on their websites. Release reports or presentations in PDF or Powerpoint format can be buried deep within a blog or hidden page.

Tip: Search Competitor Name + Features or Functionality and set the file type to PDF.  Often you will find product and user guides intended for customers or sales reps. They are more detailed than public-facing feature lists and offer a lot of insight on a product’s roadmap and positioning.

Tip: Search Competitor Name + Confidential or Private to find files intended for investors, board members or sales teams.

FAQ or support resources

FAQs often reveal a lot of details about a product’s functionality and API. They may cover very granular use-cases, like “exporting a Qualtric’s survey to Word,” or very high-level use-cases, like basic API access or integration details.

Tip: Search Competitor Name + FAQ or Support.

These are just a few of the online resources you can tap when looking to gather product-related competitive intel. Next time I’ll go deeper into finding more technical and finance-related CI.

Competitive Intelligence Expert Series: Resources and templates on how to build a competitive intelligence program