There are three primary categories of information that impact your marketing & sales strategy… your Company, your Clients and your Competitors. The ‘3 Cs!’
If I were to ask you what’s going on with your Company… you’d probably tell me about your experienced team, your products and services, revenue numbers, industry trends, and so on. If I asked about your Clients, you’d probably tell me about the markets or industries you serve, how they’re using your services, who your Top 10 clients are and the buyer persona you target.
But when I ask about your Competitors… I’m likely to get a shoulder shrug. Or a comment like, “all firms in the industry are my competition,” which somehow – in your mind – absolves you of having the need for any real knowledge of what and who you’re competing against. That needs to stop.
Knowing who your top competitors are and what they’re doing is an important part of the puzzle of understanding your business environment and – based on that – determining your direction (strategy) moving into the future.
First, define the competition
Look back through the projects you’ve bid on over the past 12-24 months. Who were you bidding against on a regular basis? More importantly, who did you lose out to… and why? If you’re not asking the buyer those questions, you need to start. Often times, they won’t tell you, but occasionally they will… and that’s very important information.
If you really have no clue who your direct competitors are, then do some online research (Quirks, Insights Association), looking for firms that are similar to yours – about the same size, providing the same kinds of services and selling to the same kinds of industries/markets. Then pick 4 or 5 of them as your ‘monitor’ group… that is, a group that will help you keep your finger on the pulse of your competitive environment (without having to follow 20 or 30 companies!).
Then, do some digging
Now that you’ve identified a competitive set, it’s time to see how you stack up against them… and for that, you’ll need to do a little digging:
- Create a profile of each firm; it should include all of the basics: name, location(s), # of employees, key execs, primary services/product lines, industry/markets served, points of differentiation, etc.
- Visit your competitors’ websites and social media properties at least once per quarter; you need to keep an eye on any changes that may be happening with them… launching of a new product, expanding into a new location, hiring a new key executive, etc.
- Regularly read through their blog; what they write about the most is how they’re showcasing their subject matter expertise (SME) and is a foundational piece of how they’re positioning themselves.
- Do they have any downloadable content on their website… books, white papers, case studies, etc.? Download and read them.
- If they offer a subscription to their monthly enewsletter, sign up for it.
- Follow the company and key execs on LinkedIn. Note: you can follow someone – without having to invite them to connect – and still see all of their posts, etc.
- Set up Google Alerts and include you competitors on the list. Every morning, you’ll receive an email with any new mentions of them on the Internet.
- And if you’re willing to invest in it, consider a little ‘secret shopping’ project on your competitors; you’ll need to find a credible, third-party to handle the project so you stay invisible in the process.
Finally, make some decisions
OK, so you’ve done all your homework and have a really strong understanding of who your competitors are, their strengths and weaknesses and their go-to-market strategies. Now what?
Now, you need to use that information as the basis for some of your firm’s decision-making (along with the information from the other two Cs – your Company and your Clients). For example:
- Does having a deeper knowledge of your competitors change, in any way, the markets or industries you go after? Or the products and services you offer?
- Or how you differentiate or position your business? Or the way in which you work with clients?
- What about their marketing… good or bad? Any ideas you can ‘steal’ from them?
- If they’re going to zig, are you going to zag? Or perhaps, will you zig harder? For example, if a competitor announces a new investment in surveying technology for quant work… will you respond by emphasizing your qual capabilities or by also investing in quant technology?
Knowing what your competitors are doing (along with the Company and Client data) will not give you the answer on how to most effectively move your firm forward… but it will ensure that you’re asking the right questions so that you can determine that answer. And that you’re fully informed to help you make smart, strategic decisions. Without information from the 3 Cs, you’re just guessing or going on “gut feel.” Probably not a good idea.
So, who are your top 3 competitors?