So, how well do you know your competitors? Let’s face it, they’re out there and they’d love to see your customers jump ship and join them.

That’s why, despite everything else you have to do to keep your business running smoothly, keeping a close eye on your competitors can help you stay one step ahead. And it’s a great strategy for growing your business.

Here are some ways you can keep an eye on the competition without being too obvious about it. Or, maybe you can be a little obvious. Competition

Ask your own customers

Focus on your newer customers and ask them what tricks the competition has up its sleeve. A new customer is an old customer of someone else, so find out what ‘someone else’ has going on.

Moreover, if a customer leaves you (how dare they!), ask them what they prefer about the competitor. A big enough collection of those preferences should inspire you to do something different that can wear down your competitor’s competitive edge.

You wouldn’t think of doing online surveys for competitive analysis.  But it’s a wonderful way to collect information.  I use a process that first asks respondents how important certain attributes are and then how satisfied they are with their suppliers performance in that area.

QuestionPro’s web survey software has a question type just for that.  It’s called Importance/Satisfaction.

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This question type makes it easy for respondents to easily rate and compare their experience with your company as well as with the competition.

Do some online snooping

Some ways of research are more basic, but still vital. For instance, learning everything you can about your competitor; from prices, to products and services, to who owns the business and the size of the staff – is a great place to start, according to Infopreneurs.

Of course, a routine Google Search is also a good place to start, but Google also has other tools that can provide an interesting look into your competition, says Inc. These tools include SpyFu, Google Trends and the old standby, Google Alerts. Don’t forget to set up a Google Alert on your own business, just to see what others are saying or writing about you.

Who are they hiring?

Another way to do some easy research on competitors is to follow who they’re hiring and why. Is there a job posting for a certain position that describes specifically what that new hire is going to do? Or is there a need for multiple hires of the same position? It’s information that can tip you off to what they’re currently doing.

Be sure to keep a close eye on social media, advises Inc. More and more businesses are using sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as a means of marketing, and you can gather some juicy bits of information about them by checking these sites daily. Moreover, your competitors may produce newsletters that you can sign up for and use to glean all kinds of good stuff.

Secret Shop!

Here’s another way to research your competition, old school as it may be: Call them up. That’s right, call them and ask questions in a way that helps you gather information. Ask them to send you one of their brochures, or send over a friend (or staff member) to pick up some of their marketing literature. It can be a great source, and no one needs to be the wiser.

Meanwhile, while you’re looking to see who your competitor is hiring, don’t be afraid to hire some of their people. There may be no better way to learn the ins and outs of their business and what they may have cooking for the future.

And let’s face it, some day you’re likely to attend the same social or business event as your competitor. There’s no reason to be a curmudgeon; treat them not as an enemy, but as a competitor, and get to know them. You’ll find out what makes them tick and you’ll most likely learn something along the way.

 

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