October 2010

What are your competitors doing?

Dear Reader

Successful businesses don’t bury their heads in the sand when it comes to their competitors. They want to know as much as possible about what they’re up to, so they can take effective action.

So, in this month’s newsletter we look at why you need to know what your competitors are doing – and how you go about finding out.

Happy reading!

Martin Holliss

e: martinh@research-insight.com
t: +44 1235 812 456
m: +44 7931 376501

Why do you need to know what your competitors are doing?

Building a complete and rich picture of your ‘market landscape’ is critical to keeping your business competitive. And a key part of that landscape is your competitors. Finding out what’s driving the growth of their businesses will deepen your understanding of your marketplace and help you build your competitive advantage.

There are several ways of getting valuable information about what your competitors are doing. Some information is easy to find, once you know how, while other pieces of information require a bit more digging.

A good place to start is with desk research. It’s incredible what you can find out from existing published sources like databases, annual reports, promotional materials, articles in newspapers, magazines and trade journals, and news updates from search engines. As with any type of research, if you’re going to do it yourself, you need to do it consistently, be persistent and know what you’re looking for. (See our tips section below for more advice on making the most of desk research.)

Sensitive competitor information
Your discoveries from desk research can prove useful when it comes to doing other types of research. One method we often use is telephone interviews. I’m often surprised (and delighted) by how much people are willing to tell us – just because we’ve asked for their opinion! But you might not be able to get access to senior people in competitor companies, such as directors of marketing or sales, to talk openly with you. Someone from outside your business will be less of a threat and is more likely to succeed!

Long-term R&D plans
Another good area to explore is intellectual property. Researching the patents filed by your competitors is a great way to get hard evidence of where they’re focusing their R&D activity. This approach is particularly useful in the area of technology. Knowing what your competitors are concentrating on can also lead you to identify gaps and opportunities in your marketplace.

In the UK, registered patents are in the public domain (see our Resources section for the web address where you can access this information). For international markets, there are global databases giving information about patent authorities in different jurisdictions, which you can access for a fee.

Three tips for researching your competitors

When researching your competitors, consider the following:

Make sure the information is current.
If you’re doing desk research, it needs to be recent enough to drive your decision-making. A regular ‘competitor news bulletin’ is a good way of sharing the information with colleagues. It will help you keep doing it too!

Don’t forget to research your competitors’ customers.
What do they think about the service they receive from your competitors? What’s driving their loyalty? Can you improve on the product or service your competitor is offering – or come up with a clearly different offerings based on your own company’s unique strengths?

Ask and you will be told!
Strange as it may seem, it’s astonishing what people will say when they are asked by someone who is genuinely interested in their views and experience. Using targetted detective-style telephone research, calling decision-makers in the sales, marketing or production teams, highly sensitive information about your competitors will come out.


For a good introduction to desk research, try Paul Hague’s article How to Get Information for Next to Nothing.

The UK’s Intellectual Property Office has a searchable patent database, and lots of other useful information about patents and other forms of intellectual property.