All too frequently competitive information resides in many homes. The process of collecting competitive intelligence can be messy since the data lives in disparate documents, folders, bookmarks, heads, paper, and other places. Not only is maintaining the mental map itself burdensome, but we have less than optimal visibility across those sources, reducing our ability to synthesize actionable knowledge — all the more so when the raw data is constantly changing. That's why creating a (mostly single-stop) home is key to maintaining your intel and generating ongoing analyses of your competition and market.
Advantages of a Competitive Database
One of the game-changing aspects of creating a database is that it changes the plane on which you engage with your competitive intel. The nature of tracking competitors encourages a natural tendency to get lost in the details since that is where you live every day. When you pull all of your raw data and information together, you break that habit and recognize new patterns in your broader market that you might otherwise have missed.
Another type of short sightedness that can emerge in gathering competitive intelligence is an intense focus on top tier competitors to the exclusion of players on a lower rung. Most of those ankle-biters disappear, but some of them become business school case studies: Siebel Systems would own the customer relationship instead of Salesforce.com; IBM could have leaned into Linux more rather than acquiring RedHat to keep a hold on IT infrastructure; and Blockbuster might be making movies had they acquired Netflix for a pittance. Using a database to keep track of the fledgling but potential disruptors in your space can give you massive strategic value. While the greatest threat is the one you don't see, the greatest disappointment is the one that you should have.
Developing a picture of your broader competitive landscape by creating a database also helps educate you and your team on indirect competition. Organizations that might seem tangential since you may not compete with them in the same deals can still inform buying decisions, particularly from a budgeting perspective. After all, you may be fighting for a piece of the same budget with your products, services, and solutions with indirect competitors and partners. Helping buyers prioritize your offerings over others with their limited funds requires a broader understanding of the offerings of seemingly non-competitive companies as well.
At a more tactical level, the simple act of laying out your competitors side by side frequently yields surprising insights. Crowded market sectors, offering categories, and feature sets jump off the page. Similarities and subtleties in messaging and positioning expose gaps for immediate differentiation in marketing materials and sales deals alike. Thus, the competitive database can generate not just a more expansive perspective but more detailed guideposts too.
Making the Time to Centralize Your Competitive Database
About now you may be thinking to yourself that creating a competitive database will take too much time out of your schedule, as will maintaining it. The latter point is easier to tackle first: the bulk of the information and data that will live in your database you are likely already collecting. You are only relocating it to a central repository that will actually make it easier to maintain and expand in the long term. Whatever is new only enriches and adds dimensionality to your understanding of your market and your competition.
Returning to the task of the original creation, which might seem a little intimidating at first, you should also consider some of the obvious and not-so-obvious benefits.
You’ll likely find that “spring cleaning” is a great way to re-evaluate your current approach and thinking, since you’ll be seeing how you work with a fresh set of eyes.
You’ll probably rediscover pieces of the puzzle that have slipped from the forefront of your mind.
You may surface some information that has become an unquestioned assumption long ago has become less important or even irrelevant.
You will be forced to reconsider your methodology, which can then reinvigorate how you tackle (and enjoy!) your day-to-day work.
If you start to lose steam in the process, take a moment to imagine your destination: where you’ll have a more holistic understanding of your market and the ability to create higher order analysis more quickly.
How to Structure Your Competitive Database
The structure of your database will likely consist of some fields that are desirable across the vast bulk of businesses and some that will be particular to your business.
A basic competitive database will include:
Go-to-market: Categories, Offerings, Use Cases, Segments, Verticals, Customers, Partners
Business Overview: HQ Location, Founded, Private/Public, Funding (if private), Revenues, Revenues Year, Employees, Tier, Direct/Indirect
Product: Products, Pricing, Features, Claims
Marketing: Messaging, Boilerplate, Websites, Events
Competitive Analysis Outputs: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats, Key Takeaways, Questions to Ask, Landmines, Questions to Expect
Each of these areas has some embedded use cases across your organization. For instance, providing the basic snapshot of competitors from the business overview section has a broad educational utility. The combination of the competitive tier with direct/indirect assignments allows for an easily digestible matrix of your overall competitive space across teams and for new hires.
The go-to-market section delivers a more exact topography of where you see your competitors in the marketplace; executive leadership, marketing, sales, and product management all benefit from this deeper understanding to direct strategy, target prospects, enhance offerings, and set the course for your company’s near and far future. Similarly, product, marketing, and analytical outputs can drive all sorts of vital explorations from positioning exercises to launch timelines to tactical discussions in field discussions.
From there, you can flesh out additional areas that you either track today or would like to start tracking in a more organized fashion. Ideally, these would grow out of your primary audiences, your existing business and go-to-market strategy, and the structure of your team and organization. You might also find value in creating fields to feed standard competitive analysis deliverables like battlecards and competitive profiles that you produce so that you can update once and copy/paste into those assets.
Competitive intelligence data is vast and ever-changing. The key to keeping a competitive edge is collecting competitive intelligence data and maintaining a singular database. To make it simple to track and keep in one centralized location, we’ve created a template to make your job easier.