At last week’s Insights & Strategies Conference of the Marketing Research Association, Sean Campbell of Cascade Insights discussed competitive intelligence in the age of search engines. Cascade Insights provides competitive research and market intelligence to B2B hardware, software, and high-tech services companies.
Too often, companies obsess about their own customers. This blinds them to potential disruption. In fact, in The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen writes, “The popular slogan ‘Stay close to your customers’ appears not always to be robust advice.”
Sean also quoted Stall Points: Most Companies Stop Growing—Yours Doesn’t Have To: its authors write, “During these companies’ growth runs, their assumptions about competitors, customers, and sources of advantage had been dependable and useful, but somehow, across the years preceding their stalls, they had weakened, gone unquestioned, and no longer formed the basis of effective strategy.”
How does this happen? Companies may conduct limited analysis about their losses (lapsed customers and lost attempts at winning customers), but they typically conduct no analysis of competitors’ wins and losses. Questions you should be asking:
- Our Losses
- Were losses hand picked?
- How objective was the analysis?
- Their Wins
- What about sectors only “they” play in?
- What about where you weren’t invited?
- What about when you were fourth on the list not second?
- Their Losses
- What about “their” competition?
- What defines a deal that they lose yet you weren’t invited to?
- What about when they were fourth on the list and not second?
It’s easy to survey a list of your own customers – anyone can do that, Sean said. How do you survey your competitor’s customers? You can collect quantitative data from the Internet and conduct qualitative interviews with competitor’s customers, partners, and influencers. Here are three tips for how to collect competitive intelligence.
Mine Job Postings
When companies adopt products, they often look for experts in those products. By searching job postings for product names, solution names, and related certifications, you can see a competitor’s success over time. Two great job-search engines are Indeed, with 100 million unique visitors a month, and Career Builder, with 24 million visitors a month. You can also use them to spot general trends. For instance, Indeed’s Job Trends reveals that jobs with “cloud” in the title have grown dramatically:
And here’s good news for an uninterrupted supper: the age of telemarketing is ending.
You can also look for intersections of products and technologies, searching for your client’s product with common partners and contrasting that with a competitor’s record with those same partners.
Mine Search Trends
According to the Google Zero Moment of Truth study, consumers consult an average of 10.4 sources before making a decision. Similarly, business buyers get 57% of the way through the sales process before ever talking to a sales rep, according to the Corporate Executive Board. Studying search-engine trends can reveal what brands buyers are searching for:
Find Competitors’ Key Constituencies
Turn to LinkedIn to identify a competitor’s customers, partners and influencers. They often use brands in their online resumes. You can also find recent past employees of companies. Then reach out to interview these individuals.
Thanks to the Internet, competitive intelligence can be conducted faster and easier than ever.
Jeffrey Henning, PRC, is president of Researchscape International, which provides “Do It For You” custom surveys at Do It Yourself prices. He is a Director at Large on the Marketing Research Association’s Board of Directors. You can follow him on Twitter @jhenning.