Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Really Challenging Competitive Intelligence

Obtaining competitive intelligence on a large, publicly held corporation is extremely easy, especially if you have a good market research budget.  It gets harder and harder as we move to privately held enterprises, reduce the budget, and get into the realm of solo proprietorships and essentially no budget.  And then imagine a competitor who is a sole proprietor who makes it known that they do quite well from referrals and word of mouth.  What, if anything, can we learn about such a competitor?

I adhere to the belief that any serious small business cannot be in business and evade some kind of detection.  There are ways to learn what is going on.  Here are some ideas.

1. In the Internet Age, consumers post reviews.  It seems that there are even people whose hobby is reviewing businesses.  Scour Yelp, Citysearch, Google, Angie's List and other sites where consumer reviews occur.  There's a good bet someone said something you can work with.

2. And in the Social Media Age, it's a better than even bet the competitor maintains some property on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Living Social, Pinterest, Instagram, and so forth.  They may post self-promotional items and quite probably someone else said something as well.  Use hashtags to probe for references to the business entity.

3. While we are at it, are they entirely safe from Online Search?  Our friends Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines can detect references, mentions, news and other clues to the competitor.  Keep an eye out for "industry" or "interest" bulletin boards and chat rooms where the competitor may be contributing.  Comments may shed insights on their current work, thinking and services.

4. Exploit the word of mouth.  While networking, ask people if they know the competitor and are willing to share thoughts.  Always do this from a position of being keenly interested in your own line of work and the various players in that space.  You may encounter current and former customers who may be perfectly willing to share their experience.

5. It's not unreasonable to call the competitor and have a chat.  A great technique is to ask for their opinion and experience on certain matters (whatever you choose).  Most people are friendly and may be happy to trade notes.  After all, the competitor is supposed to be busy enough with current customers that they are not in need of advertising for more!

It will be a challenge but not impossible to collect some useful intelligence on a tough-to-scan small business.  Be persistent, keep good notes, and be ever-alert to even small scraps of information.

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