Personally and professionally, I’m not a big fan of FOCUSING on the competition. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know what’s going on in your industry and what your customers want that would have them consider another alternative.
But for some reason, the thought of snooping around the competitive environment puts a lot of people in a lurch. There’s no reason for that. You already have access to all of the info that you’ll need right in front of you. The trick is leveraging these sources so that you can move your marketing strategy forward and attract those ideal customers to you.
As I mentioned in a previous article, the two questions that will bring you the most focus are:
“What are your goals and intentions?” — Why do you need this information?
“What information do you need to make this decision?” — What decision are you making and what is the criteria for making this decision. For example, “We can purchase this piece of equipment if we can sell 10,000 additional units of this product.”
Once you are clear and your management team is agreed on what you want to know, why you want to know it and what you will be able to do as a result, you can start the competitive information collection process.
- Craft your questions. There is nothing more wasteful than going through a competitive information gathering process with the wrong questions. My secret tip for making sure you have the right questions is crafting a set of questions and then answering them or test the questions with a few people. Then, look and see if those answers give you something that is useful. If not, rewrite them. You only have a few minutes of anyone’s time, so you want to make sure you’ve got it right.
- Share your goals, objectives and questions with your team. By far, the most time saving and productive thing you can do is share your competitive information questions with your sales team, customer service team and supplier management folks. Anyone who is having the conversation that will yield answers, should know what information you’re looking for and why. This way, when they are in conversations with their contacts, they can insert your questions into their conversation.
- Create the context for the conversation. The biggest mistake you’re likely to make is to get defensive because you are talking about the competition. Instead, put yourself in the mindset of being CURIOUS. Believe it or not, this makes a HUGE difference in how the people you are talking to will respond. Make the conversation more about your customer and their needs and wants and less about you or your competition.
- Ask your customers: You can schedule an interview call with your customers and use your questions as a discussion guide. Your salespeople can either let the customer know that they will want to talk about their needs and wants and what companies best fulfill on those as part of their agenda, or they can have these questions at the ready and ask them whenever appropriate.
- Attend a conference. Conferences are a giant focus group opportunity. Arm your company’s conference attendees with the QuestionPro app and have your crafted questions at the ready. Be sure to make collecting answers to these questions an objective for the conference.
- Watch who industry associations are talking about and referencing. Have you noticed that industry associations have their “cliques”? It happens everywhere; in the same way that Oprah has Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil, you associations have their go-to sponsors and experts. Pay attention to who they reference and what they say. Look for opportunities to get into that group.
- Check with your suppliers. Suppliers are a wonderful source of information. Granted, there is a level of confidentiality that they have to stick to — and this is why crafting those questions is so important. Select the questions that your suppliers can best answer without breaching confidentiality.
- Hire the competition. One tried and true method is to hire someone from a competing company. This is a good course of action only AFTER you already know what areas you would like to build up where a competitor is strong. Don’t just hire someone because they worked for a competitor. Focus on those competitors who excel in your areas of weakness.
- Watch who they are hiring. The other side of the competitive hiring coin is watching who they are hiring. A great way to do this is to watch LinkedIn. Notice the strengths they are hiring for, it will tell you where they want to improve or what direction they want to go in.
- Survey the competition. There are some interesting ways to survey the competition. You can hire a third party to survey competitors. But you can also hire someone to “secret shop them”. This will give you an “on-the-court” assessment of what their customers’ experiences are like.
Because these competitive information sources are always at your disposal you can run an ongoing “survey” of what the competition is doing. Or you can design a competitive research campaign that leverages the benefits of each of these. Regardless, these are all easy conversations to have. All you have to do is keep the focus on your customer while learning about the competition.