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How to Gather Competitive Intelligence: Best Practices for Getting Started

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Emily Dumas on Wed, Oct 14, 2020

Integrating competitive intelligence into your business strategy is not always a seamless process, especially if you don’t know where to start. We like to break down the competitive intelligence process into six steps, and gathering your intelligence is, of course, a critical step. Before you gather your intel, you need to identify your competitors and identify areas of interest to track in your competitors’ digital footprints. According to the State of Competitive Intelligence Report, gathering competitive intelligence data is the biggest challenge among CI professionals. To help reduce the challenges that this step in the process holds, we’ve outlined the best practices for getting started gathering competitive intelligence.

How to Prepare to Gather Competitive Intelligence

First, you need to identify which competitors you want to track. Your competitive landscape is likely vast, but by limiting your initial competitive intelligence research to your direct competitors, you’ll be able to focus your actions on the companies that you come up against the most. To narrow it down to those companies, you’ll want to analyze any win/loss data you have so you can understand how often you’re competing against competitors in deals. While a sales rep or two might complain about a particular competitor, you’ll want to be sure to validate that with data—the squeaky wheel shouldn’t always get the grease! You can also analyze your indirect and aspirational competitors, but it’s best to start small by tracking direct competitors, and then scale your efforts later. 

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By starting small, you’ll be able to gather enough comparisons between your competitors without getting overwhelmed by data. 

You’ll also want to hone in on key areas of interest about your competitors. Your competitors’ digital footprints are much larger than they were years ago, so identifying key areas of interest, you’ll be able to sort through data and highlight key insights. For example, are you interested in their marketing efforts? Their product updates? Their team? This is another variable for ensuring you are gathering the most valuable competitive intel. 

The next action to take before you begin to gather competitive intel is to set internal objectives and goals for the data. You want to make sure that the data you’re collecting isn’t an empty effort and that the data is both actionable and impactful for your team. So, where can you find the intel you’re seeking? Let’s dive in. 

The Best Sources for Gathering Competitive Intelligence 

There are many sources of competitive information on the internet nowadays. Since most, if not all, businesses have a robust digital footprint, it’s easy to source information, but it can be hard to digest all of the information at once. If you’re not using a competitive intelligence platform to assist with your competitive intelligence process, you may have to check a few different corners of the internet to get a full look into your competitor’s digital footprint. Here are a few excellent sources of competitive information to gain relevant intel on your rivals.

Competitor Websites 

Looking at your competitors’ websites can open up an endless supply of competitive intelligence. That’s why it’s important to track website updates across your competitors’ websites. A company website is home to an abundance of information that can be used for competitive intelligence. Navigating the many pages of a company website may seem daunting, but if you break it down into key categories, you can unwrap plenty of intel. You can get information about their team from their About Us page, and information on customers and partners by looking at the logos and case studies across their website. 

The product and pricing section of a website is extremely important to watch. Key changes to those pages, such as products added, datasheets, or pricing changes, can be beneficial intel to gather for both product and sales teams.

Oftentimes, a company will test or launch campaigns and promotions directly on their website. Keep an eye out for changes in landing pages, calls-to-action, and promotions or events being highlighted on different pages. 

Overall, pay attention to how a company is positioning themselves and how their messaging changes across their website. Set a cadence for how frequently to check for new updates across a website. Start with weekly or bi-weekly checks to catch changes while they’re fresh, and adjust the frequency as time goes on. 

Support Threads and Reviews  

A highly valuable and free resource for gathering competitive intelligence data is your competitors’ customer base. On review sites, customers will be extremely honest, giving you great intel about products - pros and cons, customer service, and overall customer satisfaction. New reviews are added daily to these websites. Similar to the frequency of checking your competitors’ main websites, do a sweep of all relevant review sites on a weekly basis to see what customers are saying. If your competitor has a major update to their product, increase the frequency that you check the review sites, that way, you can gauge how their latest updates are performing in your market. 

News Mentions 

To gain insight into your competitors’ media strategy, keep track of news mentions, press releases, and awards won by your competitors. Looking at which awards they’ve won allows you to see how they position themselves. An easy and efficient way to follow all news mentions is by setting up Google Alerts for each of your competitors. By tracking these insights, you’ll not only gain insight into their media strategy, but you’ll be able to find opportunities to build upon your own strategy. 

Blog and Content

Your competitor’s content is a goldmine of competitive insights. The primary content source for a company is typically their company blog. If you can, subscribe to their blog so that you never miss an update. If your competitor published articles on other sites, such as Medium, be sure to follow that, too. 

Nowadays, content extends beyond a company blog. While the classic written content types are still highly important - ebooks, white papers, etc., content is changing. Many companies are producing videos, podcasts, interactive content, and more. When tracking your competitor’s content, track quality and quantity as well, to get a complete understanding of their content strategy. 

Social Media

Ten to fifteen years ago, most every company was just on Twitter. Now, every company is on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok — we could go on. Your competitors’ social media presence can present you with a lot of valuable competitive intel. Each platform produces a different type of content, being served to a different segment of a company's target audience, so be sure to track your competitor across all platforms. Don’t forget: you should follow your competitors’ and/or subscribe to their pages.

Internal Intelligence

Conversations containing impactful competitive intelligence are happening all across your organization—across people, teams, and channels. These conversations often contain valuable intel, such as pricing information or upcoming product launches or campaigns. Similar to gathering external intelligence, you want to gather intel from internal sources and store them into one system of record. Excellent sources of internal intelligence come from sales reps’ prospect conversations, or even conversations happening on Slack.

Next Steps in the Competitive Intelligence Process

When sourcing all of this data, it’s critical to keep all of the intel in one place. You’ll want to keep all of your findings in one centralized location. When the time comes to conduct analyses, you’ll have built profiles on all of your competitors and all of the information will be ready for you to analyze. Once you’ve gathered the intel, you’ll want to create a competitive analysis, communicate the intel to key stakeholders, and create actionable plans to turn your data into results. 

There are many sources of competitive intelligence that extend beyond what’s mentioned in this article. These sources are a jumping-off point to get you started with gathering competitive intel and building out your overall CI strategy. To learn even more about gathering intel and integrating competitive intelligence into your business strategy, grab your free copy of the Guide to Competitive Intelligence. 

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Originally published September 25, 2018. Updated on October 14, 2020. 

Topics: Competitive Intelligence

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