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Competitive Intelligence

The Best Sources for Competitive Intelligence Research

October 15, 2020 by Adam McQueen

Your competitive intelligence program is only as good as the insights that it provides. The quality of these insights rely on knowing exactly where to conduct your competitive intelligence research. 

When a house is built on a strong foundation, it is built to stay forever. Finding the best sources of competitive intelligence to track is the foundation that your program needs to flourish, especially as the role of competitive intelligence professionals is shifting to become the command central for the entire organization, not just sales.  

With the right sources of intel in your hands, it is far easier to develop an effective CI strategy. From there you’ll be able to find what information matters, why, and to whom it matters to. Then the next step is to effectively distribute this information to different teams and ensure they are using the competitive intelligence you have gathered.

Here are some of the best sources for your competitive intelligence research.

Competitive Intelligence Program Steps

Monitor your competitor’s personnel

Do you know what your competitors really look like? We’re not talking about their fancy logos and branding efforts, but the actual people that are driving their business. 

Knowing the personnel of a company is an important source of competitive intelligence research as it can explain where they are focused currently, and where they are headed in the future.

Dig into their hiring practices

Looking at a competitor’s hiring trends is a great way to forecast their next move. Scratch beneath the surface of these job postings — where is it located, how many openings are there, what are the roles, and how long has the posting been online? 

These insights don’t just indicate a competitor’s growth, but also provide a glimpse into their strategic plan. 

Track if the responsibilities of several openings are closely aligned. For example, a competitor may be hiring specific engineers to build out their product. Lots of openings for the sales team in Europe? They might be building a team to enter a new region. 

Specific job postings will also tell you something about a competitor. If they are openly looking for a Salesforce developer, then it’s clear that they are using that CRM platform in their operations. 

Personnel changes at the C-suite level 

Changes at the C-suite level are also strong indicators of a strategic shift. If new board members or executives arrive with a background that is different from the core business then something may be afoot. For example, if a new VP with a history of dealing with enterprise businesses joins a company that traditionally works with mid-market businesses, it could be a tell that they are moving upstream

But it’s not just a hire’s background that can mean a shift. The executive level isn’t remaining stagnant. EY’s study shows that 82% of CEOs have added a C-suite position over the past five years to prioritize different areas of the business.

Given the influence that C-suite teams have over a business’ direction, knowing their makeup and change over time is a must-have for your competitive strategy. 

EY data shows that C Suite positions are changing

What do their employees have to say?

Tracking what current and former employees say about a business on review websites is another easy way to learn about how they operate. It is a peek inside the decisions that a competitor is making behind closed doors. Knowing how employees perceive a workplace, both good and bad, provides vital information. Sales can target their weaknesses to prospective clients, while recruiting can better position your team’s culture. 

Track your competitor’s coverage

One of the most accessible sources of information to build a full profile on your competitors is by sifting through their news, events, and press releases. These time-stamped pieces of content can help piece together their story, where they are headed, and what they value.

Competitive intelligence takeaways from a competitor's news and PR

Monitor changes to competitor’s PR page

A company’s press release page is a strong indicator of what they want current and potential customers to care about. These announcements are a tool for competitors to position themselves — it may introduce new funding and partnerships, product advancements, or if a business is scaling up. By keeping tabs on these updates it is easier for your team to proactively prepare yourselves against whatever new angle a competitor takes. 

Read what the news says about your competitors

It is also important to research what news outlets are writing about your competitor. There may be a new website that isn’t on your current PR outreach covering them; build a relationship with these reporters to expand your network and increase the coverage of your next big announcement! Similarly, being aware of awards that are presented to your competitor is another way to understand their strengths.

Track the messaging and positioning competitor’s take in events they sponsor or participate in

Finding value in event sponsorship and participation can be difficult to quantify. However, one way to determine your own strategy is to see what events your competitor is involved in, how long they have done so, and the pitch that they deliver. 

Not only does this arm you with information on how to differentiate yourself, it also can provide insight on your competitor’s positioning.

For example, at Klue many of our webinars have been focused on battlecard strategy and creation. This is because our clients love how we build them and it is one of our key differentiating factors.  

Analyze the content of your competitor’s events. You may have more insight into a topic that was covered. They might be using these platforms to feature a new aspect of their product. 

Events just keep on coming, so stay on top of your competitor’s events page and subscribe to event calendars that are relevant to your industry in order to keep tabs on everything that is happening.

The three P’s for gathering competitive intelligence: Product, Pricing, & Packaging

A competitor’s products and offerings are an essential source of competitive intelligence research. You need to know how you stack up. When your sales team is on a call with a potential customer, knowing exactly how your competitor is positioning themselves and what their prices and features are, arms them with the actionable information needed to close a competitive deal.

However, it isn’t just the sales team that benefits from this. 

Every department across your business can use information on what competitors are offering, the solutions they provide, and how their pricing changes over time.

Know the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors’ product

Finding a competitor’s most common FAQs and support threads is a great way to assess their user experience (UX) and identify the key strengths and weaknesses of their product. 

This is an opportunity for your customer success team to shine; target where competitor clients are struggling with the product and ensure that your team provides better support in that area when helping clients adopt the product. Marketing teams can also capitalize on this information by crafting campaigns that focus on resolving these ‘pain points’ that consumers find difficulty with. 

This information can guide strategic decisions on where your company needs to level up on the product in order to keep pace. Of course, any glaring weaknesses is an opportunity for your sales team to capitalize and deposition a competitor by laying a landmine.

Understand your competitor’s pricing

Pricing is always top of mind for potential customers. That’s why it is a no-brainer for your sales team to have battlecards that address this. Pricing tiers can often be found directly on a competitor’s website, or on customer review sites like G2 Crowd. 

But it isn’t just as simple as tracking a competitor’s prices. This information should drive your sales strategy.

For example, a competitor could be slashing their prices to claw back their win rate. With this information, you can prepare your sales team to have positioning messages ready in order to avoid ugly price wars that steer away from value-based solutions.

Another layer of insight into your competitor’s strategy is to look at how they package their product. Running a product analysis will provide a clear picture as to what a competitor is offering, how they are positioning themselves in the market, and how your own product matches up.

Use win/loss interviews to get a clearer picture of how you match up

Once a sales cycle is complete, going internal is an important part of competitive intelligence research. In particular, conducting win/loss interviews with new clients provides crucial information on a competitor’s product pricing strategy. Now that the sales pitch is over, prospects are far more candid about the reasons why they chose you or a competitor. 

Make sure that you ask questions that will give the answers you’re looking for.

Win loss interviews with customers provide honest competitive insights

You are what your customers say you are

Who exactly is your customer? Use competitive intelligence research to craft more accurate buyer personas that will enable your sales and marketing team to aim their efforts with precision.

Who are your competitor’s clients?

First, start looking at who your competitors are bringing in as clients, the size and industry type of these customers, why they chose to sign with your competitor, and if they are satisfied. Don’t forget to look at your own customer insights as well! Gather as much information as possible on customer feedback from prospective and current clients.

Customer feedback isn’t just useful internal information that shows your strengths and weaknesses. How well they endorse your product or service on various review websites is an essential way to establish your company’s credibility and is a great resource for your marketing and sales teams to use. These organic comments that support your product is a source of social proof; it’s why marketing teams provide case studies for prospects that are in similar situations.

Dig deep in the wealth of competitive information on review sites

User reviews sites, such as G2 Crowd, Capterra, or Trust Radius, are a simple way to begin your competitive analysis. A brief browse will hand you the bare bones needed to identify the variety of customers your competitor has – their pain points, and satisfaction levels. 

Now let’s take it a step further. 

What are the reviews that your competitor has gone to great lengths to highlight on their website and social pages? Are there new in-depth case studies or customer testimonials? These types of content provide insight into your competitors’ buyer personas and the solutions that they provide, but it also indicates the types of prospective clients that your competitor is aiming to attract in the future. You can use competitive intelligence to piece together exactly who they are targeting.

Another tip is to extract keywords from customer reviews. This method quantifies feedback in a more intuitive way and will save time parsing through lengthy reviews. Pool together the most common keywords associated with good, bad, and average reviews from you and your competitor’s customers. These results will provide more actionable insight than manually sifting through hundreds of reviews.

Tracking negative user feedback is also a great tool to enable your sales team for future deals. With a thorough understanding of a competitor’s weaknesses, you can deposition them by ‘laying a landmine’. Check out what our VP of Product Marketing, Vincent Lo, says about creating strong landmines below. You can watch the full ‘How to Create Battlecards Salespeople Love’ webinar here.

Subscribe to your competitor’s content and monitor their social media channels

Nowadays businesses put a massive emphasis on content. It is king, after all. 

Whether it is in the form of blogs and social posts, podcasts and videos, or the more granular e-books and case studies, businesses are pumping out content to showcase their brand and establish themselves as thought leaders in their industry. 

Look at your competitor’s content strategy in order to map out yours

Before you dive into the world of content creation in order to keep up with competitors, take a step back. Breathe. Use competitive intelligence to determine your strategy and use your time more effectively.

Frequently checking a competitor’s content production will help you build out your own strategy. How regularly are they posting blogs? What are the main topics that they are trying to ‘own’? What calls-to-action are they embedding in their content? 

Most importantly, what are the knowledge gaps in how your competitor is covering a given topic that you can take advantage of? 

Get ahead of competitors by creating informative content that addresses the pain points prospective customers face. Combine this method with SEO best practices and you will begin to improve your search ranking.

It is also useful to track how your competitor schedules out their content — maybe they are churning out weekly blogs, but are only running webinars and longer content on a monthly basis. These insights will provide you with benchmarks to assess your own content strategy. You may also be able to dominate an area of content where your competitor is lacking.

Decide which social media platforms are worth your efforts

Social media is such a vast landscape that it can be difficult to determine what channels are worth your time. 

However, there is value in monitoring the platforms that your competitors get the most engagement on, the conversations that they are having there, and how they share their content online. 

This will help you devise your own social strategy, unearth new questions that are being asked in your field, and connect with the thought leaders who are providing engaging insights on these topics. 

Find the purpose behind your competitor’s campaigns

The campaigns that your competitor runs provide fodder for your competitive intelligence research. Diving into their campaigns will arm you with the exact initiatives and messaging that your competitor is focused on and how they want to position themselves. 

So, where do you look to research a competitor’s campaigns and promotions? 

One of the first things is to sign up for their blogs or content and track the incoming campaign emails. Take note of the topics of the emails, the frequency they are sent, and the steps they want readers to take next. 

Social media also provides competitive insight as it easy to monitor a company’s upcoming webinars weeks in advance. These platforms are also full of competitor advertising campaigns; make sure to track when ‘promoted’ posts pop up as these campaigns are part of your competitor’s ad spend.

Another aspect that provides plenty of breadcrumbs as to how your competitor is positioning themselves is through the landing pages, ads, and CTAs (calls-to-action) that they use. By tracking the CTAs a competitor is embedding in their campaign, you will be able to see the next steps that they want their prospects to take. Clicking through these CTAs offers a look into how your competitor is driving potential leads through their sales pipeline.

A competitor may be highlighting several case studies specifically aimed at how their new product shortened their customer’s sales cycle length. Read between the lines of these campaigns – what was the solution they provided, the size and industry of the customer company, and what was the role of the customer who provided quotes? 

This not only spotlights how a competitor wants to position themselves, but it offers a glimpse into what their ideal customer profile looks like. Even more importantly, these bottom of funnel campaigns are typically used to close a customer meaning that these case studies should indicate who is currently in a competitor’s pipeline.

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The quality of your competitive intelligence program relies on getting insights that scratch beneath the surface of your competitor. The deeper you dig, the clearer the picture.

This is why it is essential to know exactly where to look in order to effectively carry out your competitive intelligence research.