COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS 101
Nobody who plans to succeed builds in a vacuum. Whether you’re an established market-leader or a scrappy upstart on the cusp of finding that elusive product market fit, competitive analysis can prepare you for victory.
In this guide, we’ll go deep on:
- What is a competitive analysis?
- How to do a competitive analysis?
- Which to identify key competitors
- Top competitive analysis tools
Let’s dig in.
What is competitive analysis?
Before we look at how to conduct a competitive analysis, let’s start with a functional definition.
Competitive Analysis Definition
Simply put, a competitive analysis is an activation that begins with research into a set of competitors and yields insights as to how those competitors build, market, and sell their products and services. It’s a powerful snapshot that can help you:
- Form a more comprehensive understanding of the competitive landscape
- Take an honest look at your own offerings in order to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (otherwise known as a SWOT analysis).
- Determine how to position your product
And it’s an essential component of your larger competitive intelligence strategy.
But shouldn’t be the only component.
Competitive Analysis vs Competitive Intelligence
Competitive intelligence (CI), on the other hand, is the process of capturing, analyzing, and activating information related to your competitive landscape. Done right, CI empowers everyone at your organization to make decisions more confidently and execute responsibilities more effectively.
While competitive analysis is a key component of competitive intelligence, the sheer breadth of CI — the quantitative and qualitative data across myriad sources updated in perpetuity — makes using the two terms interchangably all but untenable.
The benefits of conducting competitive analysis
Knowing who you’re competing with and what they’re up to is key to remaining relevant. This makes competitive analysis a necessary investment.
It doesn’t need to be overwrought and sprawling for a competitive analysis to yield actionable market insights, but it does need to happen.
Developing an understanding of the competitive landscape can yield serious benefits for your business, including:
- A better understanding of the market
- More effective customer personas
- Enhanced messaging and positioning
- Updated pricing strategies
- New product / feature ideas
Before You Start Conducting a Competitive Analysis
If competitive analysis is the process of critically assessing your company in relation to one or more competitors, selecting the correct competitors is of the utmost importance. The competitors you focus on will impact the insights you’ll glean and the decisions you’ll make based on said insights.
How to identify key competitors
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Focusing on industry leaders in your niche might not be the most effective use of your time, effort, and energy (unless, of course, you are among those industry leaders). Instead, focus on businesses that offer a similar solution to a similar ideal customer in the same market.
Direct vs Indirect competitors
Before you go deep on any one competitor, take the time to break your competitive landscape into tiers, like this:
Those three parameters from before (product, customer, market) are the guardrails you’ll operate within when breaking your competitive landscape into direct and indirect competitors.
Direct competitors offer the same services to the same customers in the same market as you.
WHOOP and Fitbit are direct competitors. Coke and Pepsi are direct competitors.
However, the concept of direct competition isn’t limited to multinational conglomerates. Two gas stations on opposite sides of a dirt road in the heart of Appalachia are in direct competition, too. So are DTC retailers selling hyper-niche products like choir robes or canned spring water or bespoke ashtrays.
Not all competitors are direct competitors. Indirect competitors are those in your industry that offer a related solution. These companies may sell a similar solution to a different audience or industry or geography, or sell a tangential solution to your same audience.
Borrowing from the example above, while WHOOP and Fitbit compete with one another directly, the Apple Watch — with its functionality that extends far beyond fitness and sleep tracking — is an indirect competitor. Similar(ish) solution, different customer, different market.
You probably aren’t losing deals to them, but, given ample resources, it doesn’t hurt to have indirect competitors on your radar in the name of futureproofing your positioning, product, and price.
How to Do a Competitive Analysis
You know what a competitive analysis is and how to identify the competitors worthy of analysis: here’s what conducting a competitive analysis actually looks like (in 5 easy steps, you’re welcome).
Competitive Analysis Step #1: Determine your goal & success metrics
Without a clearly defined goal, conducting a competitive analysis is wasted energy. Your competitive analysis needs a goal, and that goal needs to align with whatever it is your stakeholder(s) are trying to achieve.
If the leader of your sales organization notices a new competitor appearing in more deals and she asks for a competitive analysis, the goal is clear: Arm your account executives with the information they need to overcome this new objection. Obviously, the most appropriate success metric is competitive win rate.
Win rate refers to the rate at which your sales team turns opportunities into customers. It can be calculated by dividing the number of opportunities you’ve won by the total number of opportunities that have been generated.
Competitive Analysis Step #2: Collect data
One of the major benefits of goal setting is that, with a clear goal, it’s easier to figure which data should underpin your analysis. If the goal is to determine which pain points the market is leaving unaddressed, you’ll need to do a deep dive into your competitors’ offerings. If the goal is to rank for keywords with commercial intent, you’ll need to aggregate and reverse engineer top performing content created by your competitors.
Let’s say you’re conducting a competitor analysis in order to highlight the ways in which your product is superior to that of a new competitor in the space. You might look at:
- Competitor’s website: Examine the positioning and promotion of their product. Does it seem targeted towards any specific audience? Which pain points and benefits do they emphasize? Are there any crucial features that seem to be missing?
- Media coverage: Like their website, this should give you a sense of who the competitor is targeting and which pain points and benefits they’re emphasizing.
- Customer reviews: As far as you can tell, why do businesses buy this new solution? What do the positive reviews tend to center around? What do the negative reviews tend to center around?
- Your CRM: The whole reason your sales leader made this competitive analysis request is because a new competitor has been popping up in more and more deals. Well, according to your sales reps’ notes (or mentions in Gong, which connects to Crayon, enabling your sellers to win competitive deals with personalized daily recaps) what do prospects and customers have to say about them?
This is a labor and time intensive process, and the data doesn’t have much of a shelf life. If you want real-time competitive intel for your next competitive analysis, request a demo of Crayon.
Competitive Analysis Step #3: Draw conclusions & establish the so what
Time for the fun part.
You’ve gathered your data: Now it’s time to analyze it.
Connecting competitive data points isn’t always a walk in the park. If, for example, you were conducting a high-level analysis of marketing in your industry, and you had collected several performance metrics for a dozen different competitors, you would need to create some visualizations, like a competitive matrix:
Before even attempting to draw a conclusion.
Competitive analysis doesn’t always require a formal structure or framework. If, for example, ease of use is scarcely mentioned on a competitor’s website and frequently mentioned in the notes of your closed-won deals, then it’s reasonable to conclude that your competitor’s product fails to deliver a smooth user experience.
How you synthesize competitor data into actionable insights is entirely up to you; at the end of the day, it’s the so-what that matters, not how you got there.
Your company has a relatively strong social media presence and middle-of-the-road website traffic. So what? Your closest competitor ships product updates twice as frequently as you do. So what? The enterprise solution moving down-market fails to deliver a smooth user experience for SMBs. So what?
Without the so-what, your competitive analysis is incomplete and doesn’t deliver value to your stakeholders. After all that effort, don’t stop three yards shy of the endzone.
Competitive Analysis Step #4: Deliver insights to your stakeholder(s)
Given how much we rely on email—especially those of us in hybrid or fully remote work environments—it makes sense that we’d see it as the natural way to share competitive analysis. In fact, according to our State of Competitive Intelligence Report, email is the most common way to do just that.
Is this a bad thing? It depends.
Sending a follow-up email after formally presenting your competitive analysis, great.
But exclusively sending your blood, sweat, and tears as an attachment? That’s a surefire way to find your efforts buried in your stakeholders’ inboxes. Competitive analysis is storytelling. Without a formal presentation or some other mode of impactful communication, it’s all but impossible to inspire action.
TL; DR: Don’t just send an email.
Competitive Analysis Step #5: Reflect, gather feedback, & iterate accordingly
Remember those success metrics we established back in step one?
Now that you’ve shared your competitive analysis and your recommendations have been implemented, it’s time to take a look at whether you met those goals. Make sure to keep a close eye on these metrics as time goes on, as they’ll help to indicate what, if anything, can be improved the next time around.
Compete like you mean it
Eager to analyze your competitive landscape and find opportunities to win in your market? Committed to empowering your stakeholders with tailored insights and action items?
With more than 50 editable slides, you’ll have everything you need to lay the foundation for a sustainable competitive advantage.
Top 10 Competitive Analysis Tools
We’ve reviewed what it takes to conduct a thorough competitive analysis: Now let’s see what it looks like when you’re using cheat codes. The following platforms and tools (some of which are free!) can help you uncover the data needed to conduct a more powerful competitive analysis in a fraction of the time.
On top of everything else it can do, Crayon features a smart, AI-powered suite of competitive intelligence tools.
Crayon makes it easy to stay on top of industry trends and create simple, powerful reports. It also allows you to seamlessly incorporate your colleagues into the conversation, taking your intel to a whole new level and creating a true “culture of competitive intelligence” within your organization.
If you aren’t already a customer, you should probably book a demo, like, yesterday.
#2: Your CRM
Remember that whole “culture of competitive intelligence” thing? It pays dividends!
Of course, turning your CRM into a competitive analysis flywheel takes some frontloaded effort on your part. You need to determine the data you should be collecting in your CRM, and when should salespeople be asked to fill them out.
We recommend building out an Opportunity Competitor field.
While a bit of a no-brainer, it is surprising how many companies aren’t collecting data on which competitors come up in a deal.
Remember: It's important to get the most accurate data you can, considering that some prospects may not be open to discussing the other competitors in a deal with your sales rep. There is also the challenge of forgotten information if you wait too long to ask reps. You should review this implementation with sales leadership to map it to the sales process; in an ideal world, Opportunity Competitor fields would be a required field at the earliest possible stage in the sales process. This will make your CRM a powerful tool for competitive analysis moving forward.
Ahrefs provides data about your competitors’ content, backlinks, keywords, PPC ads, and much more.
With its help, you can develop an SEO, PPC, and content marketing strategy to outsmart your competition. Pretty simple!
#4: The Wayback Machine
The internet archive (a.k.a “the wayback machine”) is an incredible tool. Simply enter a URL and the tool surfaces snapshots of a website from days past:
This is a great way to observe copy and design changes evident on a competitor’s website (though it’ll take diligent note taking on your part to keep track of what’s been augmented).
Conceptually similar to the wayback machine, but focused on ad creative (and backed by Oracle), Moat has a search function that allows you to review a competitor’s paid advertisements across the web, like so:
Search by brand name to view active ads and how long they have been running. This is a great way to inspire zags in your own customer acquisition efforts, and can help you build messaging for AE’s to leverage during a prospect’s consideration phase.
The phrase “straight from the horse’s mouth” exists for a reason.
Gong analyzes your customer-facing interactions across phone, email, and web conferencing, making it an invaluable tool for the data gathering phase of competitive analysis.
As I mentioned earlier, it integrates with Crayon. When Gong’s powerful AI recognizes chatter about your rivals in conversations with prospective customers, Crayon will automatically send a battlecard packed with rich competitive intel directly to your sales reps’ inboxes. From there, they can follow up with a compelling response, tipping the competitive scales in your favor so they can close that deal.
Co-created by Moz founder Rand Fishkin, Sparktoro is an incredibly powerful audience research tool. It shows the websites your customers visit, social accounts they follow, hashtags they use, and more.
SparkToro analyzes millions of public social and web profiles to reveal demographics, behavioral traits, discussion topics, and other crucial audience research without a whole lot of heavy lifting.
Without it, you'd spend hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on market research surveys that can't deliver comprehensive, accurate information. With it, understand the people, websites, and publications that influence your customers (and, more importantly for our purposes here, the customers of your competitors).
Ever wonder how your competitors built their website or lead capture funnels or the tools they use to win business from you? Builtwith can provide answers.
- Analytics and tracking
- Content Delivery Networks
- Content Management Systems
Buzzsumo tracks content shared on social networks.
You can use it to discover which types of content competitors used to generate social shares, or you can search by your niche, to find out who has produced the most popular content on a specific subject. Either way, it’s great for identifying competitors OR digging in on content-focused analyses.
#10: Google search (with boolean operators)
This one might seem obvious. Everyone starts with the Google search bar when they don’t know what they’re looking for. Why not kick your searches up a notch with boolean logic? These are just a handful of boolean modifiers you can use to make your early-stage competitive analysis more efficient:
Using Competitive Analysis Templates to Gain a Strategic Advantage
You’ve learned what a competitive analysis is, which competitors to focus your efforts on, how to conduct a thorough analysis and, finally, which tools you can use to make your life easier.
No matter where you are in your competitive analysis journey, turning intel into insight is a time-consuming process. Hurried attempts will yield unreliable results.
As such, it’s imperative that you reduce the amount of time spent gathering, filtering, and organizing competitive intel. The more time you spend on these tasks, the less time you can dedicate to analysis — and the less confident you can feel about the insights you deliver to stakeholders.
Crayon can help. To start analyzing your competitive landscape, download our Competitive Analysis Templates today!