What is competitive intelligence?
Competitive intelligence is knowing how good your business is versus competition. Acknowledging the presence of your competitors (and their strengths) helps you in two ways:
- Know your position in the marketplace.
- Formulate next steps to compete with them effectively.
The importance of competitive intelligence
"The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time." Henry Ford.
Henry Ford’s quote and the competitive intelligence definition in the first paragraph reminds us of the reason why we are in business.
No matter what your business is - a real estate firm or a technology consulting company - you cannot afford to give it a miss because of competitors. Competitive intelligence helps companies to-
- Quickly identifying the top industry trends, your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
- Determine the future direction of your company.
- Provide executives with handy information for easy decision making.
- Know the steps needed to be the leader in your industry
- Get the necessary approvals (HR, budgetary, legal, etc.,) for executing your plans.
How do you document competitive intelligence?
Using competitive intelligence templates condenses and aggregates information that executives need to strategize.
In this post, we will examine the different types of competitive intelligence report samples, steps to create them and free templates so you can get started right away.
7 Easy Steps to Gathering Competitive Intelligence
1. Identify your competitors - identify the competitors for your product. Not all products will match yours feature-wise, in which case, your competition is the product your customers are using to fulfill their needs.
2. Know the Objectives - Learn the objectives of why you are gathering information about other products/solutions. Are you looking to:
- Narrow the gap with your competition (in terms of revenues, outlets, etc.)
- Adding more features to your product.
- Exploring new geographies.
- Improving your brand value.
- Increasing your marketing footprint.
- Enhancing your customer service.
- Improving distribution channels.
- Reducing customer rejects.
The above list is just indicative, while in reality, there are a lot more reasons for you to compile competitive intelligence data. Agree with stakeholders on what are the objectives of the exercise beforehand to avoid ambiguity later.
3. Narrow down evaluation areas - Once you have figured out what you wish to achieve through the competitor intelligence data gathering, it is now time to identify the parameters that help you measure. For example, if your objective is to increase the impact of sales enablement the metrics that you need to measure are the closing rate and length of the sales cycle etc. If your objective to improve your marketing footprint, then you should measure the amount of traffic to your competitor's websites, their pricing policy, SEO strategy, etc.
4. Identify your stakeholders - Know who will consume this competitive intelligence in your organization and what they expect out of it. If the data that you are gathering is about the competition's products/solutions, then your stakeholders are the Chief Technology Officer, VP of Product Engineering and the Head of User Experience.
5. Pick your data sources with care - Based on the intelligence that you are after, choose the sources with care. For company data such as revenues, the number of employees, history, etc., annual reports, Hoover's and SEC filings is the best sources. However, if you are looking for more classified data like customers, upcoming features, etc., then analyst reports, expert interviews are your best bets. Your competitive intelligence report will be robust or below par based on your choice of source data.
6. Fill in the information in templates - As you gather information, it is a good habit to keep plugging in the data in competitive intelligence templates before you lose track of it. These templates must be designed at the beginning of your exercise and shared only with those who are responsible for updating it.
7. Publish your research - Publish the results to your stakeholders when data gathering is over. Seek feedback on any additional information that is needed and remember to update it periodically.
the different types of competitive intelligence templates
Now, let us see the various types of competitive intelligence that you can compile. Along with it, we also bring to you examples of competitive intelligence that you can use right away.
1. Company Data - The purpose of this template is to know the competitor's overall status and where your business ranks against it and includes the below kinds of data:
- Revenues, expenses, and profits.
- The number of employees.
- Company history and background.
- Recent mergers & acquisitions.
- Location, facilities, and delivery centers.
2. Financial Data - This intelligence far deeper into the financial strength of the company and includes:
- Performance metrics - Revenues, profits, operating expenses.
- Business segments - Performance of each business segments.
- Return - Return on capital employed, equity, etc.
- Assets - The total value of tangible and intangible assets.
- Capital - Total shareholder capital, promoter stakes.
The financial data comparison helps you gain a better understanding of the financial picture of your competitors.
3. Product Comparison - Get data about the merits of each product that you have to offer versus your competition based on:
- Existing Features - List down the features that are present in the competitor's product and how you rank against it
- Upcoming Features - Mark down the features that they are building to know the gap between your product and the competition.
- Pricing - Learn the offer price of their products versus yours. If you are in the SaaS business, this is easy to determine as their website will most likely give this away.
- Market Share - Identify the market share that each product has in geographical areas, customer segments, etc.
- Marketing - Outline the marketing efforts that your competitors are undertaking for the product.
- The number of customers - Know the number of customers for each product that you compete against and their wallet shares.
- Your game plan - Having identified the gaps, you are now ready to draw your game plan to beat your competitors. List down the ways you will compete with them.
This template allows you to determine if your product is on par or different or has better features than your competitors’.
4. Strategic Comparison - The strategic competitive intelligence analysis lets you compare your business performance with your competitors. Many businesses use the SWOT template for this and here is how you can use it.
- Core features - Identify the core features of your competitor's product match yours.
- Assets - Learn about the tangible (machinery, property, etc.) and intangible assets (trademarks, patents, goodwill, etc.) that your competitors have.
- Management - Discover the key executives in the competitor's company and how crucial they are to the company's chances. Will the company go under if they depart?
- USP - Find the unique selling proposition of their product and what makes customers crave for it.
- Shortcomings - Demarcate your deficiencies against your competitors.
- Competitor's strengths - Find out what is your competition good at - customer service, supply chain, etc.
- Customer segments- Newer customer segments that you have not explored yet.
- Business segments - The uncharted business territories for your company.
- Geographies - Newer countries or geographies where your product has not well-known.
- Emerging competition - Who are the new competitors on the horizon? What is their USP?
- New technologies - Technologies can outsmart you faster than you think especially if your competitors have identified them before you. Knowing about them earlier can put you ahead of them.
- Negative customer reviews - Negative customer reviews and press coverage can cause you reputational damage.
The nature of such information is that companies are required to disclose it to government agencies when they are filing corporate results, registering for patents, trademarks, real estate permits et al.
5. Qualitative Scorecard - This numeric scorecard tells you how good your business is versus the competition across qualitative parameters including:
- Core product features/competencies
- Assets that are difficult to replicate (e.g., trademarks, patents)
- USP of products/solutions/services
- Customer support
- Customer reviews
- Company reputation
- Ease of using
- Partner & Reseller network
- Marketing strategy
You can fill this template on a scale of 1 to 5 for all your competitors. Since this is in a numeric format, it becomes easy to determine.
6. Marketing Intelligence – The competitive marketing intelligence template explains how your marketing efforts stack up versus your competition. You can measure the following parameters:
- Target audience - What is the customer segment your competitors are targeting?
- Website - How many landing pages does your competitor have? How many blogs do they publish in a week/month/year?
- Traffic - How many visits do your competitor websites have?
- Marketing collateral - What is the theme of their marketing collateral? How many videos/white papers/eBooks/ do they have? What is the frequency for this?
- Awards – What are the awards they have won?
If you are looking for all these templates at one go, here is an entire collection of them.
The best competitive intelligence resources
The next step is to determine how to collect competitive intelligence through tools/data sources. In this section, we have outlined the different sources of competitive intelligence that give your business more advantage:
1. Company Intelligence Data
This is generic information that is available publicly and all that you have to do is pick one source that you can rely on. Depending on what you are looking for, they could be treasure cove of information. Here is what you get from each source:
- Annual reports - All publicly traded companies publish annual reports annually. While the first half of annual reports contain images, graphs, management commentary, the second half carries information on their detailed financials.
- SEC Filings - These are mandatory statements that public companies in the US need to file with the Securities and Exchange FIlings and are reliable sources of financial data since 1994.
- LinkedIn - While it began as a professional networking site that let you connect with co-workers and make connections with business associates, it now lets you blog, post, share information etc. LinkedIn now even lets companies host their own pages and use it as a medium to communicate to a wider audience.
- CompanyCheck - An online database of over 7 million UK based companies that lets you do unlimited searches including addresses, registration details, key financials, director records etc.
- Hoover’s - A business intelligence company that has been around since 1990, it for information on public and private companies, executives, industries, and current events.
- Reuters - It is a Canada-based multinational mass media and information firm that traces its origin back to 1851. Reuter's provides a summary and detailed information about a company's operating segments and financial metrics.
- GlassDoor - If you are a fan of user-created content as a source of company information, then GlassDoor should be on your list. It hosts information such as company reviews, interview questions, and reviews, office photos, salary details, employment experience etc.
- PrivCo - A rare source of information on private companies, PrivCo provides valuable data on deal history, key contacts, and ownership that are notoriously difficult to obtain online.
- World Market Intelligence - It provides qualitative information on valuation, funding, acquisitions, investors, and executives for around 75,000 companies.
- Timetric - This London-headquartered company provides information on businesses in the insurance, construction and infrastructure industries.
- SGA Talent - This organization provides a phone-verified database on executives with their names, titles, emails, direct dials as well as live links to their profiles executives.
- GlobalData - A a data analytics and media company that provides subscription-based information and consultancy services aimed at consumer, technology, and healthcare companies.
Apart from SEC which is a government website, most of these sources need you to subscribe to them to use all their features.
2. Financial Data
The best place to obtain financial data is the company's annual reports or exchange filings such as the SEC. Within these look for information in financial statements of the company such as:
- Profit & Loss Statement - For data on revenues, expenses, and profits
- Balance Sheet - For data on assets and liabilities
- Shareholders Equity - For data on share capital, reserves, net income and dividends
- Cash Flows - For data on cash flow from operations, investing and financing
- Statement of Fixed Assets - For data on capital expenditure, fixed assets, depreciation.
The financial intelligence report reveals the commercial health of your competitors and crunching these numbers will help the executive team to determine the steps needed to match their prowess.
3. Product Comparison
Product feature intelligence templates can be determined through your competitor's websites, case studies, digital brochures, product videos, customer testimonials. There are a host of online tools as well that let you compare prices, features, and discounts. Here are a few:
- Pronto - a handy price comparison website for store owners.
- CamelCamelCamel - a price comparison tool for Amazon that tells you the list price, current price, and average price.
- ShopMania - a price comparison platform that lets you see the deals and promotions within your country.
- Price Runner - a price comparison website for UK-based establishments that compares websites such as Amazon, ASOS, House of Fraser, and other top brands
- Google Shopping - a simple, yet effective platform for store owners looking to find competing products and compare their pricing. Businesses can even add their products to drive more traffic to their website.
- G2Crowd - Reviews software based on a grid scoring system.
- Capterra - Reviews of products in about 300 categories.
- PCMag - Hardware and software reviews along with opinion sections.
Useful tip - In order to get the correct picture of your competitor’s products, you could become a customer and buy their products. Try their products/services for yourself and see what differentiates them versus you. If you are the product manager in an airline company, besides doing your basic research on the internet, try flying in your competitor’s flights to experience their service first-hand. Don’t blame us if they don’t let you board their flights :).
4. Strategic reports
This information is classified and can be obtained only through non-conventional sources such as:
- Surveys - Ask the partners/resellers your competitor why customers crave for their products. You could even ask their customers for this information by means of surveys and reward them if they are willing to part with this information.
- Analyst Reports - There are research firms that specialize in such qualitative information. The most popular ones are Nielsen, Gartner, IDC, Everest, Forrester, and HFS amongst others. These companies publish their research on industry trends, top players, changing consumer tastes and preferences. For example, Gartner’s Magic Quadrant gives us a wide-angle view of the relative positions of the market's competitors.
- Expert Interviews - There are experts such as independent market analysts, equity research analysts, journalists etc. who track industries, companies, executives, and customers. Engaging with them in interviews could reveal insights into your competition.
- Reviews - Forrester’s research tells us that 68% of customers want to research on their own online before making a purchase and 60% prefer not to interact with a sales rep as their primary source. In the B2C segment, product reviews form a key component of a competitor’s strategy to thrive in the marketplace. For example, customers shopping on Amazon invariably read reviews before buying them. However, for the B2B segment, there are numerous websites that provide this such as:
- Events - Events, conferences, trade shows, seminars, symposiums, industry meetups are the real deal when it comes to knowing the ground reality. Get out of your office to know the true perception of your competitors that people have.
For more details on the best review sites, here is HubSpot’s blog on 22 Customer Review Sites for Collecting Business & Product Reviews.
Useful tip - Obtaining this data could be difficult and time-consuming because it is unorganized, so plan for it early. Besides, these could also prove more expensive than other means of data gathering.
5. Competitive Marketing Intelligence
Let’s face it - there are probably millions of pages out there and that makes compiling marketing intelligence reports an unenviable task. But, the good news is that with the number of tools in the market, you can spend less time searching and more time marketing. Here are the best tools that you can make use of:
SEMRush - This platform can give you a lot of insanely useful data about your competitors’ online marketing efforts - identify different trends within your niche, earmark a variety of keywords, track search traffic, audit your competitors’ on-page SEO, check their rankings and backlinks.
- Ahrefs - This is a close competitor to SEMRush and is known to be a swiss-army knife for marketing warriors. What started in 2011 as a backlink analysis tool, now lets you analyze all the behind-the-scenes work that your competitors have been doing such as backlink analysis, rank tracking, review keyword ranking positions, keyword research, and content analysis.
- Moz - Before you start using Moz, we recommend you read this post by Rand Fishkin about its origins. It is a great tool to snoop your competitors for their backlinks, content creation strategies, on-page optimization, and keyword ranking. One of their most popular features is the MozBar, a web browser extension that nestles at the top of your browser and lets you analyze the domain authority and page authority of every keyword that you’re targeting.
- BuzzSumo - A monitoring and research tool that lets you find content that is highly shared by your competitors on social media, figure out topic-based influencers, set alerts for brands, keywords, authors and domains. Not only do you know who are the leaders for a particular keyword, but you also learn the new topics that you can go after.
- Serpstat - Another tool that takes on the above-listed platforms is Serpstat. It gives you important metric information such as keyword search volume, backlinks, filter toponyms, the cost for it, difficulty level etc. Simply enter the URL of your competitors to know their ranking, their keyword elements and you will notice all this information come in handy.
All these tools are paid and you probably cannot imagine investigating your competitors without them. More importantly, keep in mind that none of these tools can pull a rabbit out of the hat for you. They act as guides that help you become smarter when it comes to what’s working, what’s not and even inspire you to explore topics that you have not done earlier. Choose a tool that does not break the bank for you and give you the marketing intelligence you are looking for.
The Competitive Intelligence Process - Where can you go wrong?
Despite all your efforts in creating a comprehensive competitive intelligence report, there are a few perils that you should consciously avoid:
1. The devil is in the details
The lack of adequate data can lead to incorrect conclusions. By looking into the depths of your data, you might find several adjustments are necessary to the overall direction of your company, and those details will give you a stronger case to present to the stakeholders.
2. Look backward, not forwards
While compiling competitive intelligence templates, look at what has already happened. Instead of focusing on the future which is about strategizing as a result of the competitive intelligence exercise, discover the gaps that are existing at the moment. As we all know, past performance is no guarantee of future results!
3. Apples & Oranges, or Armani vs. Walmart?
A Mercedes Benz Mercedes-Maybach S600obviously costs more than a Mazda CX3. But, that is not even a meaningful comparison, let alone a let alone actionable, comparison. Similarly, the cost of buying apparel at an Armani store is going to be way higher than a Walmart store. So,
while your product may be satisfying the same need as that of your competitors, try and compare the value that the store delivers.
4. Failing to follow-up
Once the templates have been filled up, it is time to publish them to your stakeholders and take necessary steps. Failure to run this last mile can make your entire exercise appear futile.
“It doesn’t matter what you think about your competitors. What matters is what your customers think about them.”
By gathering collective data about your competitors over a period of time, you can formulate your strategy to stay ahead of them and even learn from them. So, keep revisiting your data and make course corrections as needed.